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Syria's Assad to Visit Egypt - 2002-09-29


Syrian President Bashar al-Assad heads to Cairo Monday to discuss regional issues with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

The Syrian president will arrive in Cairo to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a possible U.S.-led attack against Iraq.

Syrian officials have expressed concern that an attack against Iraq could possibly spread to Syria, which has strongly opposed American action against Baghdad. Syria is on the State Department's list of countries that sponsor terrorism.

According to Atef el-Ghemarri, the vice-president and deputy chief of Egypt's al-Ahram newspaper, there is fear throughout the Arab world that an American war against Iraq could spread to countries the United States deems "unfriendly."

Mr. el-Ghemarri says there is concern in the Arab world that the American administration may engage in "preventive attacks" against countries that have animosity toward the United States or governments the U.S. considers sponsors of terror.

Syria, he says, is a neighboring country of Iraq and is deeply concerned about what would happen after an attack on Baghdad.

The United States has never suggested an attack against Iraq would spread to other Arab countries.

Syrian government officials are also concerned an attack on Iraq could have negative regional ramifications in areas such as trade and tourism.

According to Egyptian government sources, President Mubarak plans to brief Mr. al-Assad on the Egyptian leader's recent trip to Saudi Arabia for a meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia have said they are making every effort to pressure Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to allow U.N. weapons inspectors full and unfettered access to Iraq.

Syria has said it favors weapons inspectors, but has also said it would support Iraq if it were attacked by the United States. But no Syrian official has ever said what kind of support Syria could or would provide.

Mr. al-Assad is scheduled to meet with President Mubarak for just a few hours before returning to Damascus.

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