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Assad embraced at Arab summit to U.S. dismay

STORY: A hug from the Saudi crown prince brings a beaming Bashar al-Assad in from the cold.

The Syrian president received a warm welcome on Friday (May 19) from Arab leaders who'd shunned him for years over his country's civil war.

Inviting Assad to an Arab summit in Jeddah was a major policy shift opposed by the U.S. and other Western powers.

Washington has objected to normalization with Assad, saying progress towards a political solution to Syria's conflict must come first.

"Today we have an opportunity in a world with several poles - as a result of western dominance, which lacks principles, manners, friends and partners. It's a historic opportunity to address issues without foreign interference..."

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Also in Jeddah was Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, seeking support for Kyiv's battle against Russian invaders.

It was with Russian military help that Assad turned the tide in Syria's war, which killed 350,000 people.

Saudi Arabia, Qatar and others long supported anti-Assad rebels.

Over in northern Syria, swathes of which are still in rebel hands, protests broke out in the city of Azaz.

"What are the Arab leaders doing, meeting with this criminal," this demonstrator says.

Times have changed. At an Arab summit a decade ago, the Syrian opposition sat in Syria's seat.

The Arab rapprochement with Assad gained momentum after Riyadh resumed diplomatic ties in March with Iran, which also helped Assad defeat Sunni rebels.

Many Sunni Arab states are now hoping Assad will distance Syria from Shi'ite Iran.

Assad said the country's "past, present, and future is Arabism" without mentioning Tehran - for decades a close ally.