UAE top diplomat praises Bashar al-Assad for 'wise leadership'

The United Arab Emirates Charge d'affaires Abdul-Hakim Naimi, center right, cuts a cake with Syria's Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad, center, to mark UAE's National Day, in Damascus, Syria. [AP Photo]

A diplomat has praised Bashar Assad’s “,” describing relations between the two Arab countries as “solid and special.” The comments by Charge d’affaires came during a ceremony late on Monday in Damascus to mark UAE’s National Day.

The United Arab Emirates' top diplomat in Syria has praised Bashar al-Assad for his "wise leadership", in one of the strongest expressions of support yet from a country that once backed Damascus' enemies in the civil war.

The two restored diplomatic ties last year and the UAE's vocal support will be welcome by Assad, who has wrested control of most of his country from rebels and jihadists and is seeking to shed his status as pariah to much of the outside world.

Speaking at a ceremony to mark UAE national day on Dec. 2, UAE charge d'affaires Abdul-Hakim Naimi said he hoped "security and stabiity prevails throughout the Syrian Arab Republic under the of .

"Syria-UAE relations are solid, distinct and strong," he added, according to a video posted by Russian broadcaster RT.

The UAE has begun to forge closer ties with Damascus to counter the influence of its rivals Iran and Turkey. Last December it reopened its embassy there, angering Washington, which has sought to keep Assad isolated.

Washington has lobbied Gulf states including the UAE to hold off restoring ties, sources told Reuters earlier this year.

At the ceremony, Syria's deputy foreign minister Faisal Maqdad thanked the UAE for its support.

"We cannot forget that the United Arab Emirates stood by Syria in its war against terrorism," he said.

Earlier in the war UAE supported armed groups opposed to Assad. But its role was less prominent than that of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and mainly centered on ensuring that Islamist forces did not dominate the uprising.

Damascus has restored control over most of the country's territory since support from Russian air strikes began in 2015, tipping the war in Assad's favour.

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