(Bloomberg) --

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad visited the United Arab Emirates, as momentum in the Middle East builds in support of recognizing the sanctioned leader. 

Assad, accompanied by his wife Asma Al-Assad, was received by UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan on an official visit to the Gulf nation on Sunday, the state-run WAM news agency reported. UAE National Security Adviser Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed Al Nahyan was also present.

The Syrian leader’s second trip to the UAE since March last year is a further sign Gulf powers, which initially supported a rebellion against him, are ready to welcome Damascus back into the fold.

“We held constructive talks aimed at developing relations between our two countries,” the UAE’s president said in a statement. “Our discussions also explored ways of enhancing cooperation to accelerate stability and progress in Syria and the region.”

A pariah in the Arab world since Assad’s crackdown on an uprising in 2011 triggered a brutal war, Syria remains under strict Western sanctions and is suspended from the Arab League. Turkey, Russia and the UAE are, however, redoubling efforts to rehabilitate Assad, and shape the decade-long war in his country to the detriment of US-backed forces. 

Turkey, which supported the rebellion against Assad, is now prepared to publicly recognize his rule and work to rebuild diplomatic, security and trade ties, people briefed on the Turkish position said in January.

Russian President Vladimir Putin held talks last week with Assad in Moscow, as the Kremlin stepped up efforts to restore ties between Turkey and Syria. The diplomatic activity followed a visit by top US military officials to American troops and their Kurdish allies in northeastern Syria, where Washington has kept a presence for almost eight years. 

Read more: Turkey Closes In on Russia-Backed Assad Deal in Blow for US

Assad’s UAE trip comes as a debate rages between Syria and world powers over aid access after February’s deadly earthquakes in Turkey and Syria. While supplies have flowed into heavily damaged regions in Turkey, aid deliveries to tens of thousands of Syrians have been stymied by infighting between rival powers in the country’s more than decade-long war.

As part of a flurry of diplomacy around Syria, the UAE’s foreign minister met Assad in Damascus in January and reiterated support for a political solution to the conflict. Assad’s 2022 visit to the UAE drew a rebuke from the US, which has struggled to rally traditional Gulf Arab allies behind its campaign to isolate Putin amid strains in a decades-old relationship. 

Assad has clung to power with the help of Iran and Russia, whose intervention was instrumental in turning the tide of the conflict. His foreign visits over the past decade had been limited to those two countries. 

Gulf Arab governments in recent years have seen rekindling ties with Syria as preferable to abandoning the country to Iran, which is increasingly isolated from the West. Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic agreed to restore diplomatic ties in a Chinese-brokered deal, a move the kingdom may have taken to shield it from any possible escalation in Israel’s confrontation with Iran.

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