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Home >> World
UPDATED: 09:23, March 15, 2007
EU's Solana in Syria for talks on Middle East issues
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EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana on Wednesday held talks here with Syrian leaders on Middle East issues, particularly in Lebanon, Iraq and the Palestinian territories, and the Syrian-EU relations.

On his first visit to Damascus in two years following the assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri in 2005, Solana held separate talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, his deputy Farouk al-Shara and Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem.

Solana said at a joint press conference with Muallem after the meetings that he urged Syria to exert "further effort" to help stabilize neighboring Lebanon and Iraq.

Syria, a former power-broker in Lebanon, was seen as key to unravel the political tensions there between the anti-Syrian majority and the mainly pro-Syrian opposition including its Shiite Hezbollah allies since late last year.

Describing the talks as "good and frank", Solana said he called on Syria to crack down on alleged arms smuggling across its borders into Lebanon and carry out maximum effort to help implement a UN resolution requiring the disarmament of Hezbollah.

"This is fundamental to reach peace, stability and independence of Lebanon," he added.

Solana also called for a comprehensive peace process in the Middle East, noting that the EU works on the restoration of the occupied territories, including Syria's Golan, through activating this process on all tracks.

"We would like to work as much as possible to see your country Syria recuperate the territory taken in 1967," he said.

Meanwhile, Solana highlighted Syria's important role in achieving stability in the war-wracked Iraq, referring to a recent regional security conference in Baghdad that grouped long-time foes -- the U.S., Syria and Iran.

For his part, Muallem denied that his country is smuggling weapons into Lebanon, renewing Syria's commitment to implement UN resolution 1701 and the necessity for UN forces to fulfill their duties in south Lebanon in a best manner.

Concerning an international tribunal to try suspects behind Lebanese ex-premier Rafik Hariri's murder, Muallem said Damascus did not oppose the formation of such a tribunal.

"We don't say that we stand against an international tribunal .. .we are waiting for the results of a (UN) investigation with which we are fully cooperating," Muallem said.

Muallem added the Lebanese are in agreement on the principle of the tribunal but in differences over its statutes.

The Syrian top diplomat also hailed EU's role in achieving a just and comprehensive peace in the region while expressed appreciation over Solana's current three-nation tour which also took him to Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.

However, Muallem noted that there were still differences between Syria and the EU over some issues, but he hoped that dialogue could continue.

"There are a number of agreements and disagreements, but it is a beginning and we hope bilateral dialogue is going to continue in the future to reach security and stability in the region," Muallem said.

On Syria's condition to open dialogue with the U.S., Muallem clarified that what has been done in the Baghdad conference was a beginning, saying that "we hope the Americans see that solution in Iraq is not military, but should be political."

"Syria has no provisions to continue dialogue with Washington, but Syria only demands adherence to the rules of dialogue," he added.

Solana's visit, marking an end of the EU's freeze on contacts with Damascus, came at heel of U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration Ellen Sauerbrey who discussed on Monday with Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad on the plight of the Iraqi refugees.

Sauerbrey is the first high-level U.S. official to visit Syria in two years since the trip of then-deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage in February 2005.

Damascus has been isolated by the West since the killing of Hariri, which it denied any involvement although a UN probe has implicated senior Syrian officials in the murder.

On Tuesday, Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi told Assad in a telephone call that Solana's visit was a good opportunity to end Syria's isolation.

Source: Xinhua

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