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France to Cut Off Contact With Syria Over Lebanon


The president of France says he will have no further contact with Syria until he is convinced that Syria is really trying to resolve the political crisis in neighboring Lebanon. He spoke on a visit to Egypt. VOA Middle East Correspondent Challiss McDonough has more from Cairo.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy says his government will suspend diplomatic contact with Syria, until he sees proof that Damascus is working to resolve the standoff that has kept Lebanon without a president for more than a month.

Mr. Sarkozy was speaking to reporters in Cairo after meeting with his Egyptian counterpart.

He said, "The time has come for the Syrians to prove what they have been proclaiming in talks." He said he is expecting action from Damascus, not just talk.

Lebanon has been without a head of state since late November, when the last president's term expired. The two main political factions have agreed in principle on a successor, army chief Michel Suleiman, but the vote to elect him has been repeatedly delayed as the two sides fight over political issues.

Syria is a key backer of the Lebanese opposition group Hezbollah, and the French leader called on Damascus to exert its influence in pressing for an end to the crisis.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak also called on Syria to help resolve the Lebanese political crisis. He said it is not possible for a country to remain without a president for months.

He said, if this situation continues, it could lead to grave consequences. He said Syria has no choice but to try to resolve it.

The Egyptian leader also said Egypt is trying to deal as quickly as possible with a problem that has developed along the Egyptian border with Israel and the Gaza Strip, where some 3,000 Hajj pilgrims are stranded in Sinai trying to get back to their homes in Gaza. Egyptian authorities want them to cross through the Aouja border post, which is controlled by Israel, rather than the Rafah border post. Mr. Mubarak said the authorities' concern is that the pilgrims would be able to carry prohibited items into Gaza through Rafah. Israel believes some Hamas members are trying to smuggle in cash.

The French president met with Mr. Mubarak at the end of a five-day Egyptian holiday with his new girlfriend, the Italian model and singer Carla Bruni. They spent most of their time in Luxor and the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. The vacation has sparked controversy both in Egypt and at home in France.

French opposition parties have criticized Mr. Sarkozy for allowing a wealthy businessman friend to pay for parts of his trip, including flying him to Egypt in a private plane. Some Egyptian newspapers have also said that the French leader should not have been allowed to stay in the same hotel room with a woman he is not married to, a practice that is frowned on in conservative Egypt.

President Sarkozy dodged questions about his holiday, saying he would deal with them when he returns to Paris.

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