Syria reaches out to neighbors after enactment of U.S. sanctions

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

ATHENS Syria has launched a campaign to improve relations with NATO allies in the Middle East region, in wake of the imposition of sanctions by the United States.

Syrian President Bashar Assad has scheduled visits to Greece and Turkey over the next few weeks. They will be the first such visits by a Syrian president to the two NATO allies.

Friday, President George Bush signed the Syrian Accountability Act, which imposes a virtual U.S. trade embargo on Damascus.

Assad arrived in Athens on Sunday for a three-day visit, Middle East Newsline reported. He met with his Greek counterpart, Costis Stefanopoulos, and then received a medal from parliament.

The Syrian president is to meet a range of political figures and then hold a session with Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis. Greek officials said Assad will also hold a news conference before his departure on Wednesday.

Over the weekend, Assad met a U.S. congressional delegation to discuss Syrian policy on Islamic insurgency groups and Damascus's occupation of Lebanon. On "My approval of the act does not constitute my adoption of the various statements of policy in the act as U.S. foreign policy," Bush said.

Assad has also scheduled a visit to Turkey. That visit is expected to begin on Jan. 6.

Last week, a senior Turkish security official discussed security cooperation during his visit to Damascus. The visit came in wake of the Syrian transfer to Ankara of 22 Turkish nationals suspected of insurgency activities, including the Al Qaida bombings in Istanbul last month.

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