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Syrian President Assad Hosts Four-Party Summit


The leaders of France, Syria, Turkey and Qatar met in Damascus Thursday to discuss the burning issues of peace between Israel and Syria, Iran's nuclear program, and the situation in Lebanon. The four-party summit is giving Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad a forum to rejoin the international community after several years of being ostracized, as Edward Yeranian reports for VOA from Beirut.

The four-party summit was the second major diplomatic event in Damascus, this year, following the Arab summit, last March.

A confident sounding President Assad, addressing the leaders of France, Turkey and Qatar, played the statesman, showing that Syria had made its reappearance on the international diplomatic scene, following months of isolation.

Mr. Assad indicated he had given Turkey a "draft proposal" for peace talks with Israel and is awaiting an Israeli response, before direct negotiation between both sides can begin.

He said, "The main points of a peace agreement have been given to Israel, including the withdrawal line [from the Golan Heights] which Syria has proposed." Mr. Assad said they have defined six main points and handed them to Turkish mediators in hopes that the successor of Israeli Prime Minister Olmert will show the same willingness to withdraw as he has.

President Assad also urged the United States to step up and play a role in talks between Israel and Syria, along with France and Turkey. Ankara has, until now, played the role of mediator in four sessions of indirect talks between Israel and Syria.

Mr. Assad also warned that a new "Cold War" between the United States and Russia, following recent events in Georgia, could "negatively affect stability in the Middle East." The Syrian president recently visited Moscow, to discuss the purchase of new Russian weapons systems.

French President Sarkozy, whose visit is giving Syria new diplomatic clout, after several years of isolation following the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri in 2005, spoke mostly about Iran, warning Tehran "not to pursue nuclear weapons."

Iran is taking a major risk by seeking nuclear weapons, he insisted, because Israel could attack it and that would be a 'catastrophe' for everyone.

President Assad downplayed Mr. Sarkozy's concerns, claiming that long-time ally Iran is merely "pursuing a civilian nuclear program."

The Emir of Qatar, who currently leads the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which includes six Gulf states, also tried to sound conciliatory towards Iran, saying that his group hoped that any quarrels with Tehran, including a territorial dispute over three Gulf islands, be solved through negotiations.

He said, the Council supported taking conflicts to the international court to discuss them, but refuses any new conflict in the Gulf with Iran that other nations want to force.

Stability in Lebanon, which elected a new president after bloody sectarian clashes last May, was also a key topic of discussion.

President Assad indicated Damascus would open an embassy in Beirut, "probably toward year's end," and that he had asked Lebanese President Michel Suleiman to restore order in the war-torn northern city of Tripoli by sending in another army brigade.

The Executive Editor of Beirut's An Nahar newspaper, Edmond Sa'ab, thinks the four-party summit was a "positive development" for both Lebanon and the region.

"It gives hope that there will be peace one day and that Lebanon, one day will join Syria in this indirect negotiation with the Israelis… that's what we are waiting for… that will end all our internal problems… so, after that we don't need any other weapons, or any other mini-states inside the state," he said.

Sa'ab also insisted that if Israel ultimately returns the occupied Golan Heights to Syria, Damascus would no longer have any reason to covet neighboring Lebanon, parts of which it occupied for nearly 30 years.

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