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Bashar al-Assad asks Paris to help talks with Israel

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Bashar al-Assad asks Paris to help talks with Israel


French President Nicolas Sarkozy only gets his Mediterranean Union off the ground tomorrow at a summit in Paris but Middle Eastern leaders gathering in the French capital are already busy.

Among them are Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, and Lebanon’s new president Michel Suleiman.

For Assad it is a return from the cold after France blamed Syria for killing former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri and froze relations in 2005. But Assad has produced a surprise.

He has asked France to help mediate direct talks with Israel, with American help, and contribute to the region’s future security arrangements.

He has also promised to establish diplomatic relations with Lebanon soon. Beirut says this will be the first sign that Damascus recognises Lebanese sovereignty, and it has been welcomed by President Suleiman, who said: “There’s a new and an old page, and I’m satisfied with the new relationship between us and Syria.”

Co-chairing the summit is Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak, who met Sarkozy in the morning to finalise arrangements. Sarkozy has also announced he will visit Syria by mid-September.

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