UAE Brokers US Visa Deal for Syrian Minister

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Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem meets on 9 September 2013 with his Russian counterpart in Moscow. Muallem visits Russia for talks with the top global ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as expectations grow of military action against the regime. (Photo: AFP -Yuri Kadobnov)

By: Nasser Charara

Published Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Al-Akhbar has learned that Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem’s bid to obtain a US visa to attend the 68th session of the UN General Assembly was rejected by the US State Department.

In principle, according to the law governing the relationship between the UN and the US as the host country of the UN headquarters, US authorities have no right to deny a visa to any official from a UN member state, if the visa is requested for the purpose of participating in a UN event. Nevertheless, there were previous cases where the US refused to grant – or delayed – a visa to certain officials from countries at odds with Washington for long enough to prevent their timely arrival to participate in UN meetings.

According to reports, the US State Department exhausted the legal limit in this regard when it refused to issue a visa to Muallem. Muallem was scheduled to deliver Syria’s speech at the assembly on September 30.

Washington has now reportedly reversed course on the visa issue following mediation by the United Arab Emirates. According to the same reports, after days of deliberate delays by the US State Department, the US authorities have now issued a conditional visa to Muallem that allows him to enter New York exclusively, but not the rest of the US.

Damascus purportedly designed the itinerary of the Syrian delegation headed by Muallem in such a way as to avoid stopovers in certain European airports, as several countries in Europe have issued arrest warrants against Syrian regime figures, including the foreign minister. The UAE had a role in finding a solution to this problem, offering to allow the plane carrying the Syrian delegation to land in Dubai where the delegation would then fly nonstop to New York.

Muallem and his delegation are expected to arrive today, September 25, in Beirut on a private Syrian plane, and then fly onwards to Dubai where the delegation is set to take an Emirates flight to New York City.

Some informed sources consider the UAE’s assistance in getting Muallem to New York a positive step that could signal a breakthrough in some of the Gulf countries’ attitudes regarding the best approach to resolve the Syrian crisis. As part of this emerging climate, the sources reveal that there are unpublicized efforts – including by the UAE – to broker a meeting between Muallem and US Secretary of State John Kerry on the sidelines of UN meetings in New York.

It is worth mentioning that the UAE, especially the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, had maintained a hardline policy toward the Syrian regime. The UAE toed the Saudi line in seeking to arm the opposition and provide it with logistical support through Turkish and Jordanian territories.

During the past two years, three liaison offices run by Qatar, Saudi, and the UAE operated out of the Turkish border region with Syria, supporting the Syrian opposition. Yet at the same time, Abu Dhabi gave the Syrian regime indirect positive signals, most notably by hosting Bushra al-Assad, the sister of President Bashar al-Assad, after the assassination of her husband Asif Shawkat during Ramadan last year.

Bushra’s stay in the UAE is not seen as political asylum or as something that can be interpreted as hostility to the regime. Bushra’s residence in the UAE has to do with special circumstances relating to her fear for her children and her desire to give them a peaceful setting for them to complete their education after their father's death. Bushra and her children travel frequently to Beirut, where they are purportedly under Syrian protection.

Interestingly as well, Emirates Airlines was the only Arab carrier that continued to fly to Damascus, despite the Arab boycott. This continued until the airport became unsafe, when the fighting in the Damascus countryside drew close to the airport’s surroundings.

In addition, there have been reports that Emirates Airlines was helping move Syrian funds out of Damascus to Dubai. The aim was to bypass international sanctions on Syria, which prevent the fulfillment of the foreign currency-denominated commitments of the Syrian government and deals between Syrian companies and traders and their foreign counterparts.

The Syrian funds would be placed in Emirati banks and then converted to settle foreign currency payments. This practice has stopped recently for security – and not political – reasons.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

It is high time that the non-aligned countries make a decision to move the UN headquarters to one of their own countries. In this regard, the call by the president of Guatemala on 25th September at the UN couldn't have come at a better moment. Leaders of the non-aligned countries should seize this moment to work hard in order to move the UN to another place.

Be very careful Syria!! You are a smart country and government and you must always be watchful of who you trust!! The Syrian minister should also not eat or drink anything that was not brought with him.

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