BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian President Bashar Assad arrived in the United Arab Emirates on Sunday, his first visit to the wealthy Gulf country since the devastating earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria last month.
Assad, who arrived with his wife Asma and a delegation of Syrian officials, was received by UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, according to a statement from Assad’s office.
Sheikh Mohammed said in a statement on Twitter that the two “held constructive talks aimed at developing relations between our two countries.”
The visit marks a continuation of the current thaw in relations between Syria and other Arab countries, more than a decade after the 22-member Arab League suspended Damascus’s membership over Assad’s brutal crackdown on protesters and later on civilians during the war.
International sympathy following the earthquake seems to have accelerated the regional rapprochement that had been brewing for years. Before the tragedy, the UAE had already re-established ties with Damascus. Assad’s first visit to the UAE since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011 was last year, followed by another visit in January this year.
After the earthquake, the UAE foreign minister visited Damascus, and the Gulf country sent dozens of aid shipments to Syria.
Damascus hopes that regional reconciliation will release long-awaited funds to rebuild the battered country. However, analysts said it was unlikely to happen on a large scale for now.
A key obstacle: Syria has failed to implement United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254 adopted in December 2015 as a roadmap for peace in Syria. Acceptance of the road map is a key US and EU request to normalize relations with Damascus.
The World Bank said on Sunday that Syria’s real gross domestic product is expected to contract by 5.5% in 2023 following the earthquake, with physical damage estimated at $3.7 billion and economic losses at $1.5 billion. bringing the total estimated impact to $5.2 billion. This adds to the pre-existing damage of 12 years of war.
“Economic growth could contract further if reconstruction progress is slower than expected, given limited public resources, weak private investment and limited humanitarian assistance reaching affected areas,” the Bank said in a statement. .