Merkel and Pelosi in Syria to smooth relations

world | Apr 04, 2007 | By Asia News

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and United States House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who were in the Lebanese capital yesterday,  focus on solving the Lebanese crisis by taking their complaints to Syria

Chancellor Merkel, who is also the current EU president, demanded that Syria stop the smuggling of arms across its border into Lebanon, establish diplomatic relations with Lebanon, and agree to an international tribunal into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

House Speaker Pelosi and her 27-member delegation, which includes members of Congress and the Iraq Study Group, met with Syrian leaders in Damascus. But unlike Merkel, she wants "dialogue" with Syria.

During her two-day visit, she met President Bashar al-Assad, his deputy Faruq al-Sharaa and Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallim.

"We all know that the settlement of some problems in the region must come through Damascus and we are going with a clear intention to make our stances very clearly to the Syrian leadership," Syria's state news agency SANA quoted Pelosi as saying.

In Washington the White House lambasted the speaker's visit saying that it plays into the hands of the Syrian regime.

"We are ready for a dialogue with Washington without preconditions," said a high-ranking government sources quoted in al-Hayat this morning. "Pelosi's visit represents for us an opportunity to show that Syria is not part of the problem, but part of the solution," the same source said.

Chancellor Merkel took a firmer stance, excluding Damascus altogether from her Middle East trip, and not meeting Lebanon's President Émile Lahoud during her stop in Beirut.

Syria must do its part to stabilise the Lebanese situation by "stop[ing] the smuggling of arms, establish[ing] diplomatic relations with Lebanon and demarcat[ing] a common border," she said.

The chancellor pledged support for the UN-backed tribunal that should try suspects in the Hariri assassination and called on Damascus to "co-operate fully" with the UN probe into the event.

"We will do our best to establish this court without any excuses," Merkel said.

The chancellor also held talks with Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri and, according to press reports, told him of the importance of the tribunal suggesting that he recall parliament for that purpose.

Members of Lebanon's ruling coalition also called on Berri to reconvene parliament, something he has refused to do for months. Mr. Berri heads the opposition Shia Amal movement.

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