The United Arab Emirates’ economy ministry has said the Gulf state and Syria agreed on future plans to enhance economic cooperation and explore new sectors.
The move underscores shifting regional dynamics after 10 years of war in Syria.
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The UAE supported the Syrian opposition during the early years of the conflict. But as the Syrian army recaptured most of the territory from the opposition, the UAE and other Arab countries made openings towards President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
The ministry wrote on Twitter the value of non-oil trade between the two countries in the first half of 2021 was one billion dirhams ($272m).
— Ministry Of Economy – United Arab Emirates (@Economyae) October 10, 2021
In 2018, the UAE reopened its embassy in Damascus for the first time since the start of an organised Arab diplomatic boycott in 2011 and in a bid to counter the influence of non-Arab actors such as Iran, which along with Russia backs al-Assad, and Turkey, which backs opposition forces.
Last week, the UAE’s economy minister met his Syrian counterpart on the sidelines of the Dubai Expo 2020, where they looked at ways to expand their relationship, according to the state-run WAM news agency.
Earlier this year, the UAE said sweeping US sanctions imposed on the war-torn country made it more challenging for Syria to return to the Arab League.
Under Washington’s Ceasar Act passed last year, the United States has attempted to prevent any reconstruction efforts or trade deals from being made without first enacting human rights reforms.
The sanctions target Syria’s president, his close circle of associates, family, senior security officials and troops, as well as the central bank and any institutions believed to have played a role in the violence during the war.
While al-Assad may have won the military campaign against his opponents with the help of backers Russia and Iran, he faces a bigger challenge of governing while more than 80 percent of his people live in poverty.
The war in Syria killed at least 350,000 people, according to the UN. The conflict, which started as a mass uprising against al-Assad’s rule in March 2011, quickly morphed into a full-fledged war and sparked the world’s biggest refugee crisis.