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Iraqi Prime Minister Holds High-Level Talks in Syria

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Ties between Iraq and Syria appear to be warming, as Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki pursues a second day of high level meetings with top Syrian officials, including President Bashar al Assad. For VOA, Edward Yeranian reports from Beirut.

Urging Syrian support in efforts to curb violence in his country, Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki is in Damascus to meet with Syrian officials to discuss security and economic relations.

It is Maliki's first visit to Syria since he took office last year. Baghdad and Washington have accused Iraq's neighbor of failing to rein in the flow of militants and weapons across the border. Syria denies this.

Maliki gave an assessment of relations between Iraq and Syria.

He says talks and dialogue between Iraq and Syrian officials are taking a spirit of cooperation and relations must evolve towards uniting views and goals, with cooperation in confronting those difficulties facing us

Syria's Prime Minister Mohammed Naji Otri told Maliki that he must set a timetable for the withdrawal of "U.S. occupation forces," before Iraq can be stabilized.

U.S. troops, writes Syria's official news agency SANA, have "drawn radical forces to Iraq and ignited waves of violence."

Iraqi Army Chief of Staff Babakir Zebari, accompanying Mr. Maliki, claims that infiltration from Syria into Iraq is down by 60 percent in recent weeks.

Mohammed al Habash, a member of the Syrian Parliament from the ruling Ba'ath Party told al Arabiya TV that Iraq, "must seize the initiative."

He says the Iraqis, if they increase their control of national affairs, and cooperate with the real powers in the region, may be able to alleviate the catastrophic state of affairs that have befallen their country, but he didn't think that Syria possesses a magic bullet to resolve things, but by cooperating, they can help.

Al Jazeera reports that Assad and Maliki engaged in lengthy and detailed discussions on security, trade and refugees.

Syria, according to some reports, is now home to more than a million Iraqi refugees.

Damascus has repeatedly pleaded with international humanitarian agencies to help alleviate the burden of Iraqi refugees to its economy.

The Arab daily Asharqalawsat also reports that both countries are discussing the reopening of the Banyas oil pipeline between Iraq and Syria, closed in 1980.

Iraq's Minister of Commerce argues that trade relations between Baghdad and Damascus have deteriorated dramatically since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, and must improve.

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