UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus Monday, setting off an international uproar over what one expert called a “prompt condemnation by France.”
According to reports, Assad offered the first public comments on the regional energy rivalry between Syria and Saudi Arabia, saying that he had canceled a meeting in Riyadh after President Donald Trump announced the United States withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Iran.
“Of course they are going to back Trump’s decision,” he said, according to AFP. “I was going to have a meeting in Riyadh to deal with oil prices, but they said I couldn’t make that this time, and I could make it another time.”
Although the White House called the remarks “completely false,” as part of a pushback on President Trump, experts told Fox News that the comments were misleading.
Analysts compared Assad’s comments to former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s statement just prior to the United States invasion of Iraq, arguing that Assad’s claims were similar.
Assad gave no direct comment on Iran or Saudi Arabia, other than to insist on his desire to settle long-standing disputes, such as wars with Qatar and Israel. He also claimed that the conflict in Yemen would be resolved by the end of the year.
Baghdad strongly condemned the meeting.
“We call on the Syrian regime to condemn this provocation and strong rebuke it did not deserve,” Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said.
According to the White House, the UAE called the Iraqi complaint an “outrageous and ridiculous intervention” against Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria.
The White House said in a statement that the UAE statement was an “outrageous and ridiculous intervention” in the United States’ decision to withdraw forces from Syria.
On Monday, Trump announced that the United States would withdraw its 2,000 troops from Syria.
But the US move has triggered a series of protests in the Middle East, with leaders and residents of Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Iran calling on America to stay.
In Syria, several prominent Syrian opposition leaders endorsed Assad for president, saying the United States needed to give up its efforts to overthrow the country’s government.
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