01/19/2006, 00.00
SYRIA – IRAN – LEBANON
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Ahmadinejad arrives in Damascus, Brammertz in Beirut

The 'Summit of the Banned' is convened to show Syro-Iranian solidarity and refusal of foreign interference. Mehlis' successor in Lebanon is surrounded by exceptional security measures.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived today in Damascus for what some have dubbed the 'Summit of the Banned'. Today is also the day in which Serge Brammertz arrives in Beirut to replaced Detlev Mehlis at the helm of the United Nations commission of inquiry into the assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. But at UN headquarters, Syria continues to claim its innocence. In the meantime, the United States has decided to freeze all US assets of Syria's military intelligence chief, Asef Shawkat, who is also Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's brother-in-law. For the Bush administration, Shawkat is one the masterminds of Syrian domination in Lebanon and accuse him of playing a direct role in terrorism in Iraq.

In Damascus, Iranian President Ahmadinejad was received with the highest honours. It is his first state visit.

Syria's state news agency SANA reported that the Iranian president was welcomed by Syrian President Assad, Prime Minister Mohammed Naji Otri as well as the ministers of Foreign Affairs, Finance, Electricity, Transport, Petroleum and Mineral Resources, Housing and Construction, Higher Education, Economy and Trade. It said the two leaders had their first meeting but provide no information as to what they discussed.

According to an official with the Office of the Iranian President cited by Lebanonwire, the two-day visit is meant to show Assad solidarity and reach some bilateral economic agreements.

Iran's official news agency IRNA more simply reported that "President Ahmadinejad is scheduled to confer with al-Assad on key bilateral, regional and international issues."

For its part, Lebanese daily L'Orient Le jour writes that the 'Summit of the Banned' is designed "to show that their two countries will not allow themselves to be intimidated by foreign pressures". "We," Ahmadinejad is quoted as saying, "reject all foreign interference."

Silence and exceptionally tight security measures surround the arrival, announced for today, of Serge Brammertz, the Belgian prosecutor at the International Court of Justice who is taking up the post at the helm of the United Nations commission of inquiry left vacant by German judge Detlev Mehlis.

Damascus has launched a formal protest against a statement Mehlis reportedly made in an interview with Arabic-language daily Asharq al-Awsat in which he said he was certain that top officials in the Syrian government were involved in the attack that killed Hariri. Instead, Syrian authorities have accused Mehlis of using the media to exert partisan pressures.

In this noisy beehive of activities, sure sign of tensions, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora is travelling to Amman, Jordan, this Sunday to discuss bilateral issues and regional security with his Jordanian counterpart Marouf Bahkit. 

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