The United States on Tuesday voiced concern after a meeting between the Foreign Minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.

“We are concerned by reports of this meeting and the signal that it sends,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters, according to the AFP news agency.

“This administration will not express any support for efforts to normalize or rehabilitate Bashar Al-Assad, who is a brutal dictator,” Price stressed.

The comments came after UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan visited Damacus and met Assad, the first such visit to Syria in a decade.

Price declined to say if the United States had conveyed its concerns to the Emirates but said Washington was “not surprised,” indicating that there was discussion beforehand.

The spokesperson stressed said there was no question of legitimizing Assad.

“There has been no change in our position and Bashar al-Assad certainly has not said anything that would rehabilitate his image or that would suggest that he or his regime is changing its ways,” he said.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last month that the US does not support efforts to normalize relations with Assad’s government or lift sanctions imposed on Damascus until there is progress in the political process in the war-torn country.

Syria erupted into a civil war after Assad in 2011 began a crackdown on protesters calling for an end to his family’s rule.

The United States and most European countries shut their embassies in Damascus after the government’s bloody crackdown on protests.

Since then, the Syrian President has repeatedly rejected ties with the United States and other countries that support Syrian rebels, whom he calls “terrorists”.

Syria’s government refers to all those who oppose it as “terrorists”, including both jihadist rebels as well as rebels considered by the West to be “moderate”.

After years of tensions, however, some Arab countries recently began improving relations with Syria.

Assad and King Abdullah II of Jordan recently spoke over the phone for the first time since 2011, while Syria’s defense minister visited Jordan and met with Jordanian military officials.

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