06/24/2006, 00.00
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Syria poses conditions for dialogue with Beirut

by Jihad Issa

In a press conference yesterday, the Syrian Information Minister said: no mediation from the USA, France and Great Britain; let's respect existing agreements, and internal Lebanese dialogue must close before discussions start about borders and diplomatic ties.

Damascus (AsiaNews) – Syria has listed the conditions necessary to take up talks on relations with Lebanon, which have deteriorated since 2004 when pressure from Damascus forced the extension of the mandate of Lebanon's filo-Syrian President Emile Lahoud.

In a press conference yesterday, the Syrian Information Minister Mohsin Bilal, said that first "we have to wait until internal Lebanese dialogue is concluded" (started in Beirut in March and going on intermittently since). He told a delegation of Lebanese journalists, including the AsiaNews correspondent: "When you have finished your meetings, you will be welcome in Syria".

Bilal emphasized the availability of his government to start sincere dialogue, without mediation, between the two countries before dealing with practical issues. "Don't expect Syria to ask anyone to mediate between us and Lebanon," he warned, underlining the importance of existing agreements "which must be respected." This was a response to calls by the anti-Syrian coalition in Lebanon, which is demanding a review of all agreements Lebanon signed with Syria in the past.

The minister clearly said Damascus will receive anyone who wants to go to Syria, "on condition they don't pass through Washington or Paris." Lebanon has asked for a meeting with Syrian officials, but Damascus has been reluctant to invite Prime Minister Fuad Siniora for talks. In a wider context, the reference here is to international pressure exerted by the United States, France and Great Britain, which have promoted a series of UN resolutions regarding Lebanon. The most unpalatable for Damascus is Resolution 1559 of the Security Council that calls on Syria to end its interference in Lebanese affairs, to define its borders and to establish diplomatic ties with Beirut. Bilal called on the French government "to play its historic role", distancing itself from the USA, which is only following "its self-interest" in the region.

Today, the Syrian press reported government sources saying that yesterday's meeting between the Syrian President, Bashar Assad and his Egyptian counterpart, Hosni Mubarak, mediator in the Lebanese-Syrian conflict, "did not yield any positive outcome". Damascus even took the opportunity to reiterate that "for the moment, the issues of the border and diplomatic ties will be not discussed."

Already at the beginning of the week, the Syrian Foreign Affairs Minister Walid Muallem had said that "this is not the right time to establish diplomatic ties" between Syria and Lebanon. However the Lebanese MP, Saad Hariri was more optimistic. Yesterday, in Paris, where he met President Chirac, the son of the ex-Premier Rafic Hariri, killed last year, said diplomatic ties with Syria "are possible".

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See also
Assad contradicts minister: Damascus "doors open" to Siniora and Hariri
Damascus refuses diplomatic ties with Beirut and Siniora's visit
UN pressing Syria to fully respect Lebanese sovereignty
Optimism voiced about resumed inter-Lebanese talks
A new UN resolution is unfortunately necessary, says Sfeir


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