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Working towards warmer relations?

Latest update : 2008-02-14

A delegation of French MPs travelled to Syria on an official visit between January 8-12, in order to revive diplomatic links damaged by months of political tension in Lebanon.

Despite the apparent cooling down in relations between France and Syria brought by the political crisis in Lebanon, a delegation of French MPs travelled to Syria on an official visit between Jan 8-12.

“This visit has been in the works for several months,” Socialist MP Gerard Bapt told France 24. “Relations with Syria may have cooled down following the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri under President Jacques Chirac’s mandate but they were never suspended.”

“Relations between our two countries have had ups and downs these pas few years but our friendship goes back a long way,” said Jean-Luc Reitzer, an MP from President Nicolas Sarkozy’s ruling UMP party. “We won’t find solutions to regional problems today without dialogue.” This is something Syrian information Minister Mohsen Bilal could only agree with.

President Sarkozy declared while in Egypt on December 30, 2007, that France would stop all contact with Syria as long as it refused to help designate a Lebanese president who would be acceptable to all parties.

In a break with the diplomatic isolation imposed on Syria by former President Chirac, France made several short-lived attempts to help solve the Lebanese power vacancy in the past months. Several high-ranking government officials, including Foreign minister Bernard Kouchner, met with their Syrian counterparts. But with no solution to the Lebanese crisis in sight, President Sarkozy grew increasingly frustrated.

Reacting to President Sarkozy’s statement, Syrian Foreign Affairs Minister Walid Al-Moallem said on January 3rd that Syria had decided “to cease all cooperation with France on the Lebanese crisis”.

Mr Al-Moallem has since received the visit by the French delegation. “We are very satisfied to have met French parliament representatives,” he told France 24. “Our meeting was a chance to discuss the latest developments in the region and touch on the Lebanese issue, for which we were able to stress our views,” added the Syrian minister.

Another positive sign came from the Syrian head of state Bashar al-Assad, who also insisted on seeing the French delegation. An indicator of sincere desire for appeasement or mere politeness? Whatever the case, “Syrians do not wish for relations to remain frozen,” French Member of Parliament Gérard Bapt told France 24.

Meanwhile, France 24 spoke to a Syrian political observer who wished to remain anonymous. He said recent history shows that pointing at the Syrian regime is most likely to lead to its radicalization. Hence, he argued, the visit by the delegation is positive. “Nonetheless it remains an initiative by a small group of MPs and one that is not necessarily representative of the government’s official position,” he added, before concluding that more would have to be done to ensure substantial progress.

Date created : 2008-01-11