Iraqi president to visit Syria

Iran Materials 13 January 2007 12:24

(AP) - Days after President Bush accused Syria of encouraging the violence in Iraq, President Jalal Talabani on Sunday will become the highest-level Iraqi official to visit this country in more than 24 years.

His visit, announced on Iraqi television and confirmed by a Talabani spokesman Friday, aims to seal the ties between the two neighbors after they restored diplomatic relations in December, cut in 1982 amid ideological disputes between the Syrian government and Saddam Hussein's regime, reports Trend.

The Iraqi president will arrive Sunday and stay for four or five days, Talabani's spokesman Kamaran Qaradaghi told the Associated Press. State-run Iraqiya television said Talabani will meet Syrian President Bashar Assad and sign security and economic agreements.

Qaradaghi would not elaborate on Talabani's goals for the visit. But the Iraqi president was expected to discuss security on the country's long desert border with Syria.

The United States and Iraqi officials accuse Damascus of allowing Sunni insurgents to cross the frontier freely to carry out attacks in Iraq.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki вЂ" a more powerful political figure than Talabani, whose post is largely symbolic вЂ" has been cool to Damascus, insisting that Iraq's neighbors should stop meddling in Iraqi affairs or helping its foes.

On Wednesday, Bush lashed out at Syria вЂ" and its ally Iran вЂ" in a speech announcing plans to dispatch 21,500 more U.S. troops to Iraq to try to stabilize country.

Bush accused Syria and Iran of supporting the violence in Iraq, and vowed to break supply lines from them to Iraqi militants. He called on U.S. Arab allies to rally behind Iraq's Shiite-led government in what was seen in the Arab world as a move to isolate Syria and Iran.

Syria says it is doing all it can to patrol its border and blames the Americans and the Iraqis for not doing enough to monitor the porous frontier.

Talabani's visit is part of a diplomatic balancing act, as Baghdad tries to build relations with its powerful neighbors without antagonizing its chief patron, the United States.

The restoration of diplomatic ties between Iraq and Syria marked a warming of relations after years of hostility. Damascus quarreled with Saddam, and shunned the new Iraqi leadership that came to power after the 2003 U.S. invasion.

Both Iraq's interior minister and parliament speaker have made recent trips to Syria. Iraq's Shiite-led government also has developed close ties with Shiite Iran, which has been at odds with the United States for nearly 30 years.

Syria broke diplomatic ties with Iraq in 1982, accusing it of inciting riots in Syria. The two countries were ruled by rival branches of the Arab nationalist Baath party, and Damascus sided with Iran in the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war.

Talabani spent considerable time in exile in Syria during Saddam's 23 years in power and has maintained good relations with Assad вЂ" as Talabani did with Assad's father, the late Syrian leader Hafez Assad.