First Published: 2003-10-20

Spanish king meets Syrian leader in Damascus

King Juan Carlos I holds talks with Assad on first day of his visit to Syria at time of tense US-Syrian relations.


Middle East Online

Spain's royal couple on their first state visit to Syria

DAMASCUS - Spanish King Juan Carlos I marked the first day of his state visit to Syria Monday by holding talks with President Bashar al-Assad, under increasing US and Israeli pressure over alleged terror links.

Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq al-Shara and his Spanish counterpart Ana Palacio also took part in the meeting.

Madrid condemned Israel's raid on a suspected militant Palestinian training camp near Damascus on October 5 - the first such attack in 30 years and one which Washington regarded as self-defence.

At the time, Palacio said "nobody can agree with the Israeli bombardment of Syrian territory," following a suicide bombing in Haifa, northern Israel, that killed 21 people apart from the Palestinian bomber.

The king's visit, accompanied by his wife Queen Sofia, comes at a time when US-Syrian relations are in the doldrums.

Last week the US House of Representatives voted a bill allowing the White House to slap economic and diplomatic sanctions against Damascus on charges of alleged terror links and its readiness to develop weapons of mass destruction.

The English-lanaguge government daily, Syria Times, hailed the royal visit as "an important event" that will "rectify the holes in the relations between the Arabs and the West" and "play a significant role in the dialogue between Islam and Christianity".

Talks will redress the "many misunderstanding in the West about Syria's attitudes towards Iraq and Palestinian resistance," the paper added.

Spanish diplomats say the trip is intended to foster "intensified political dialogue" between Damascus, Madrid and the European Union.

For the past six years, Syria has been negotiating a partnership accord with Brussels due to be signed at the end of 2003, after Assad ordered discussions to be stepped up a gear.

Two bilateral agreements were signed Monday in the presence of the Spanish royals and Syria's first couple on promoting investment as well as boosting cooperation in tourism.


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