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Middle East
Syria offers support to Iraq
The Syrian foreign minister's visit to Iraq is the first in more than six years.
Last Modified: 21 Nov 2006 14:39 GMT

Moallem (L) and Zebari (R) discussed restoring diplomatic relations

Walid Moallem, the Syrian foreign minister, is holding talks with Nuri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, in Baghdad.
 
It is the first official visit by a Syrian minister since Saddam was overthrown and appears to signify improved relations between the two countries.
 
Moallem has offered Syria's support to the Iraqi government.
Moallem met Hoshyar Zebari, the Iraqi foreign minister, on the first day of his visit, and is meeting al-Maliki on Monday. Moallem is also expected to meet Jalal Talabani, the Iraqi president.
Syria and Iraq have been at odds for decades, but Zebari said the visit would open "a new page in relations between the two countries".

He said that Iraq now expected "complete relations with Syria".

Damascus broke relations with Baghdad in 1982, accusing Iraq of fuelling riots in Syria. Syria supported Iran during the Iran-Iraq war from 1980-88.

Commercial ties improved between the two countries towards the end of Saddam's presidency, but it has been more than six years since an official visit by a Syrian minister to Iraq.

Moallem called on Iraqis to put aside sectarian and ethnic divisions and to end sectarian violence.

He said: "We are exerting all our efforts and understand that Iraq's security is part of our security. We will co-operate and we have specific ideas to discuss with the brothers in Iraq in order to set up this co-operation."

He said that Syria would co-operate with the Iraqi authorities in their struggle to control violence in the country.

"Syria renews its condemnation of all acts of terrorism that are occurring in Iraq and are harming the Iraqi people. We call you to cling to your unity."

US and British authorities have claimed that Syria is funding armed Sunni groups in Iraq.

"Syria is hurt by the Iraqi bloodshed"

Walid Moallem, Syrian foreign minister

Syria has also been accused of allowing fighters to cross its border with Iraq and the US has claimed that Syrians make up the second largest group of foreign fighters entering Iraq after Egyptians.

Syria has always refuted these accusations.

Moallem said: "Syria is hurt by the Iraqi bloodshed and it repeats its condemnation of all terrorist attacks that harm the Iraqi people and their institutions."

New page

Syrian officials said in February that they would exchange ambassadors with Iraq once a new Iraqi government was formed and Zebari said that they had discussed restoring diplomatic relations between the two countries.

"We call you to cling to your unity"

Walid Moallem, Syrian foreign minister

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Zebari has said that the visit will be an acid test of neighbouring Sunni Arab states' willingness to help an Iraq now dominated by Shia Muslims and backed by Washington.

He said: "Iraq's security and stability is an issue for Syria and the neighbouring countries.

"It's important they support our government and fight terrorism."

Foreign powers

George Bush, the US president, has played down suggestions that Syria and Iran should play a role in Iraq.

The suggestion was made most prominently by Tony Blair, the British prime minister.

But the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, co-chaired by James Baker, a former secretary of state, may make this recommendation in its report which is due to be released before the end of the year.

Moallem stressed that his visit was not intended to please foreign powers.

He said: "I'm not coming to Iraq to satisfy some other person."

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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