EU resumes dialogue with Syria

The European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, held talks with Syrian leaders Wednesday on his first visit to Damascus in two years.

EU resumes dialogue with Syria

TheEuropean Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, held talks with Syrianleaders Wednesday on his first visit to Damascusin two years.

Solana's visit comes at the end of a three-day tour of the region, where hevisited Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.

EU officials said the tour is aimed at resolving Beirut's political crisis and encouragingreconciliation between rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah.

In Damascus, Solana met separately with Syria's VicePresident Faruq al-Shara and Foreign Minister Walid Muallem and later spent onehour with President Bashar al-Assad.

It was their first meeting since a two-year French veto on direct talks withDamascus waslifted.

The veto followed the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister RafiqHariri, which was widely blamed on Syria.

Damascus hasdenied any involvement in Hariri's murder.

Before the talks, Solana said the European Union wanted to "see if wecan resume our relations with Syria...We will have to discuss the change of behavior."

Solana's trip is the latest in a string of visits by Western officials that Syria describes as proof of its indisputablerole as a key player in the Middle Eastregion.

"Solana's visit today is a major step on the road to stabilizingArab-European relations," Syria'sofficial newspaper Tishrin said. "We truly hope that this will work out inthe interests of the Syrians and Europeans and of peace and security in theregion and the world."

"Constructiveapproach"

No details of the talks were immediately available but Solana is expected tohold a press conference later on Wednesday.

Ahead of the talks, an EU diplomat said Solana would tell the Syrians that,in exchange for an end to Syria'sinternational isolation, they must take a constructive approach throughout theMiddle East, particularly in Lebanon.

The Western-backed Lebanese government is trying to end afour-month-old political crisis triggered by the resignation of six oppositionmembers from the government, largely over the cabinet's endorsement of a UNtribunal to try suspects in the Hariri murder.

The anti-Syrian parliamentary majority in Lebanonhas accused Syriaof blocking the creation of the UN tribunal.

The opposition fears that the tribunal, which still has to win parliamentarybacking, may be used as a political tool.

It was France's PresidentJacques Chirac, a close friend of Rafiq Hariri, who had vetoed contacts with Damascus after theassassination.

EU officials acknowledge privately they have been looking for a way toresume talks with Syria.

Solana's visit comes after a top U.S. State Department official made thehighest-level visit to Damascus in two yearswhich involved talks limited to the Iraqi refugees in Syria.

"It is clear that Syriacannot be isolated; to the contrary, its role is being recognized," saidAth-Thawra newspaper on Tuesday. "Syria has not changed its policies,which have turned out to be valid."

Solana traveled to Syriafrom Saudi Arabia, which hasbeen playing an increasingly centre-stage diplomatic role regarding Lebanon and theIsraeli-Palestinian conflict.

During the visit, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, Prince Saudal-Faisal, described as "ludicrous" an Israeli suggestion that the"right of return" for Palestinian refugees be negotiated before itagrees in principle to an Arab peace plan.

Israeli officials have recently expressed interest in the proposal, adoptedby the Arab League in 2002, while voicing some reservations.

The Arab League is due to re-launch the original plan at a summit in Riyadh later this month.

Agencies 

Güncelleme Tarihi: 20 Eylül 2018, 18:16
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