The UAE foreign minister arrived in Damascus on Tuesday to hold talks with the Syrian government and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, marking the highest-profile visit by an official from the Gulf Arab nation to Syria since the start of the civil war in 2011.
Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the second-ranking official in the UAE, is scheduled to meet with Bashar al-Assad in Damascus on Tuesday, the Syrian embassy in Abu Dhabi announced on Tuesday.
The UAE and Syria have had strained relations over the years. It expelled Syrian diplomats in 2015 after the UAE’s ambassador to Syria was kidnapped and held for two months in Libya. UAE protests continued until 2017, when Sheikh Abdullah made his first visit to Syria in more than a decade.
While the UAE is seen as an important international player, given its size and its a significant investment bank, it has made few diplomatic moves in Syria. The UAE ambassador to Syria, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, is seen as one of the region’s most influential diplomats.
A report from the Syrian Arabic language daily al-Rai earlier Tuesday said that the foreign minister of the UAE could not guarantee an early meeting with the Syrian president. A government source confirmed with The Associated Press that al-Nahyan arrived in Damascus on Tuesday.
The UAE has been one of the most outspoken backers of Syrian rebels, especially the anti-government al-Qaida-linked Fatah al-Sham Front, commonly known as the Nusra Front. The UAE’s covert role in fighting against Nusra was exposed by Newsweek in 2016. In 2017, al-Nahyan said that it was not a priority to reach a settlement with Syria.
The UAE was thrust into the geopolitical spotlight after a US whistleblower revealed that UAE officials tried to lure Americans to work for UAE intelligence. The so-called crown prince of Dubai, Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, was said to be the mastermind behind the operation.
An American diplomat also claimed that a UAE spy procured the phone number of then-President Barack Obama’s eldest daughter, Chelsea, when she was 16 years old. She released emails she said were given to her by a UAE official saying that she could have $50 million in a year if she traveled to Dubai and asked to marry an Emirati.
“You and your sisters may meet the Emirati princess she met,” the Emirati official wrote. “You will get 100 million dollar bank account in 4 years, and enough diamonds and jewels to make any Bond girl happy.”
The daughter later took down the post, and Hillary Clinton’s foundation revealed it had backed one of the entities implicated in the case.
The story drew attention of the highest levels of government, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, President Donald Trump, and then Vice President Mike Pence. Clinton, who also served as First Lady under former President Bill Clinton, recalled receiving the email directly from a mutual acquaintance.
“My immediate reaction was both shocked and hurt that something like this could happen,” she wrote in an autobiography. “In private, I did not believe it but in public, when asked about it, I was forced to admit that, at the very least, the Embassy to the United States may have a few serious skeletons in its closet.”
Read the full story at the New York Times.
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