Written by Staff Writer at CNN Abu Dhabi
As Moscow looks to consolidate its control over key parts of the Syrian city of Idlib, the UAE has launched a high-profile diplomatic mission into the war-torn country.
On Monday, UAE Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash hosted a delegation from the Syrian Foreign Ministry in Abu Dhabi for talks, which took place with top-level intelligence officials as well as senior representatives from the Syrian opposition.
President Bashar al-Assad told the delegation that fighting extremism was a strategic priority for Syria, and that his government was committed to continuing its battle against “terrorism” until it vanishes from the Syrian battlefield.
His visit came after a similar trip from the UAE envoy to Syria on August 11. His itinerary included meetings with representatives from the Syrian opposition to discuss political issues and national reconciliation plans.
Between 2012 and 2015, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey spearheaded a diplomatic campaign to support the Syrian rebel forces fighting against the Damascus regime. While they publicly supported democratic reforms and a role for women in society, they also vehemently opposed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal crackdown against the opposition in an effort to stave off defeat and avert an invasion of rebel fighters by ISIS.
A mass uprising against the Assad regime erupted in 2011. The UN estimates that more than 400,000 people have been killed, 6.5 million internally displaced and 12 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance since the country’s civil war began.
Over the years, the UAE has shifted its foreign policy focus away from Syria and onto its perceived strategic rivals Iran and Turkey. Saudi Arabia and its allies — including the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt — have become embroiled in a regional dispute with Iran, whose administration and its proxies have been accused of extending their influence throughout the Middle East.
The UAE also led an unprecedented diplomatic campaign against Qatar that began in 2016. Qatar maintains close ties with Iran and the Syrian government and maintains extensive infrastructure in Syria, including a network of aid projects.
After lifting the blockade in June, Gulf Arab nations that previously opposed the land, air and sea blockade issued Qatar with a list of 13 demands it must meet to regain diplomatic ties. Qatar said the demands were an attempt to force it to accept a “hostile” agenda.
“We are fully committed to reconciliation and reconciliation across the entire region and to our efforts in Syria,” Assad told the UAE delegation.
“Our goals are to completely eradicate terrorism and extremism and develop peaceful stability and economic growth.”
In a short statement following the meeting, Gargash praised the UAE’s relationship with Syria.
“We are proud to have hosted the highest-level delegation from the Syrian Foreign Ministry in the UAE. This visit is an important signal of the UAE’s ongoing support for Syria,” he said.
“The UAE remains fully committed to the ongoing peace process in the region, and will continue supporting the UN-led process as the only credible and appropriate way to ensure lasting solutions for the Syrian people.”
Syria’s Consul General Hussam Qadri said he was happy with the UAE’s determination to continue supporting Syria, which he said was under siege.
“The UAE is a trustworthy and strong ally of Syria. We are grateful for the hospitality extended to us by the UAE government. We are pleased with the UAE’s continuous support for the people of Syria, because we are in need of such a powerful, unconditional and keen friend,” he said.