Wednesday, August 08, 2007


International meeting on Iraq's security in Syria

(Reuters) -- Syria will host an international security meeting on Iraq on Wednesday although the United States doubts Damascus is willing to play a role in stopping violence in its eastern neighbour. The two-day meeting will be held in a government complex on the outskirts of Damascus. Officials from Iraq, the United States, Britain, Iran, Turkey and Jordan will attend, a Syrian official said.
'Washington is making a gesture towards Syria by attending the meeting in Damascus,' a Syrian official told Reuters. U.S. officials held security talks in Baghdad this week with Syria's ally Iran. After a visit to Damascus last month by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Syria said explicitly for the first time it supports the Shi'ite-led government in Baghdad.
One delegate said the meeting would focus on ways to control the 360-km (225 mile) border between Syria and Iraq and dismantling alleged Iraqi Baathist networks in Syria. 'With all the talk of Syria as a transit route for rebels, it makes sense to hold the meeting here. This is a chance for Damascus to show it can cooperate and talk with U.S. officials. The two sides rarely meet,' the delegate said.
'A mechanism should also emerge for the Iraqis and Syrians to cooperate regularly on controlling the border,' he said. Washington says Syria is allowing fighters and weapons into Iraq. Damascus denies this and says ending instability in Iraq and achieving an 'honourable withdrawal' for U.S. forces is in its national interest.
A diplomat in the Syrian capital said Damascus had kept its policy on Iraq vague in the absence of a U.S. promise to give Syria something in return for its cooperation, such as an easing of American sanctions that were imposed on Syria in 2004, or pressure on Israel to withdraw from the Syrian Golan Heights. 'So far Syria has been playing both hands. It puts out the right statements but does not move substantially on the ground,' the diplomat said.
Syria fiercely opposed the American-led invasion of 2003 that removed Saddam Hussein from power and brought sectarian tensions to the surface. It has since hosted an estimated 1.4 million Iraqi refugees who have fled Iraq. It also hosts a large number of former operatives from Saddam's security forces whom the U.S.-backed Iraqi government accuses of having links with the rebels.
The Damascus meeting is a follow-up to a conference in Egypt in May in which senior U.S. and Syrian officials met each other for the first time in two years. Another follow-up meeting in Amman dealt with the refugee problem.
Although the Damascus meeting will focus on Iraq's security concerns, Turkey is expected to raise the issue of Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) rebel separatists who use Iraqi Kurdistan as a base. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki visited Turkey on Tuesday for talks on dealing with the PKK.

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