Qatar FM calls for halt to normalization with Syria after UAE visit

·2-min read
Syria's President Bashar al-Assad (right) receives the United Arab Emirates' Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan in the capital Damascus on November 9, 2021 (AFP/-)

Qatar's top diplomat voiced hope Friday for a halt to normalization with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad after his counterpart from the United Arab Emirates paid a visit to Damascus.

"We hope that countries will be discouraged from taking further steps with the Syrian regime," Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani told a joint news conference in Washington with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who reiterated US concerns about rehabilitating Assad.

"Qatar's position will remain as it is -- we don't see any serious steps by (the) Assad regime showing his commitment to repair the damage that he made for his own country and for his own people," Al-Thani said.

"As long as he's not taking any serious step, we think that changing the position is not a viable option," he said.

Al-Thani, however, also said that other nations had the "sovereign right" to make their own decisions on Syria.

The United Arab Emirates and Qatar are both close US allies, although they have had a rift in recent years.

UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan on Tuesday met in Damascus with Assad, a clear sign of momentum to restore relations amid a growing conclusion that Assad has won after a brutal, decade-long civil war that has left nearly half a million people dead.

"We're concerned about the signals that some of these visits and engagements are sending," Blinken said.

"And I would simply urge all of our partners to remember the crimes that the Assad regime has committed and indeed continues to commit."

President Joe Biden's administration has focused on humanitarian relief in Syria rather than military solutions but has vowed no normalization and continues to press for a peace settlement.

The Caesar Act, a US law that came into force last year, sets up sanctions for anyone working with Assad to rebuild the country, part of an effort to encourage accountability over rights abuses.

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