The United Arab Emirates has reopened its Damascus embassy, almost seven years after shuttering the building at the outbreak of the Syrian conflict. The move marks a big boost for Syria's President Bashar Assad from a Gulf Arab state that had backed armed opposition to his regime.
At a ceremony attended by diplomats from several Arab states, Iraqi Ambassador Saad Muhammad Rida hailed the reopening as "the invitation for the Arab world to return to Damascus." A spokesman for Syria's Foreign Ministry called it a "positive step."
Abu Dhabi says its return to Syria is aimed at curbing the risk of regional interference in "Arab, Syrian affairs" -- an apparent reference to Iran, which, along with Russia, has backed Assad throughout the almost eight-year-long conflict.
The UAE is the first member of the Gulf Cooperation Council to return to Damascus but a visit by Sudan's Omar Bashir earlier this month sparked talk of a regional effort to rehabilitate the Assad regime after years of isolation.
As the conflict winds down with Assad still firmly in power, many other countries are thought to be turning their eyes back toward Damascus. In October, President Assad told Kuwait's Al-Shahed newspaper that "Western and Arab delegations have already begun to come to Syria to arrange their return, whether diplomatic, economic or industrial." Pro-government Syrian outlet Al Masdar News has suggested that Riyadh could be next. If true, that would be a major turnaround for the state that long-backed efforts to oust Assad from power.
Other countries are also keeping an eye on the economic opportunities afforded by Syria's desperate need for partners to help it rebuild the devastated country, among them India and China.