Fatchett meets al-Assad, hints at support to Arab states
Syria-UK, Politics, 12/10/1998
President Hafez al-Assad at al-Shaab palace in Damascus on Wednesday received British Foreign Office Minister Derek Fatchett and members of his accompanying delegation.
Present at the meeting were Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa and the British ambassador in Damascus, Basil Eastwood.
Talks dealt with conditions and developments in the region, the Middle East peace process and achievements realized before it was suspended as well as the role the can be played by Europe in the peace process in order to reach a just and comprehensive peace in the region.
Talks also dealt with bilateral relations and means of developing them.
Fatchett described his meeting with President Hafez al-Assad as "very positive." He said, "We had very good talks which were frank that prepare for our future contacts and meetings."
In a press conference he held on Wednesday night the British official said his talks with President Hafez al-Assad and Syrian officials tackled four main points: "bilateral relations between the two countries and means of supporting and developing them and the Middle East peace process."
He stressed the UK commitment to the success of Middle East peace and has solid confidence that "success for the peace process will be only attainable though a comprehensive settlement on the Syrian and Lebanese tracks."
Fatchett continued, "I have promised President Hafez al-Assad and the Foreign Minister that the UK would proceed in getting itself involved in the peace process because we see in the peace process the only way to achieve justice, security and prosperity in the region."
Fatchett added that the third main topic is Iraq. He noted the agreement between the two sides on the need for Iraq's total adherence to UN Security Council resolutions and that, "Iraq has to cooperate with UN inspectors as it promised."
Fatchett said he expressed Britain's thanks over efforts made by President Hafez al-Assad to make progress on the Lockerbie issue as well as the support shown by the Arab League for trying the two suspects in a third country. The British official expressed hope that Arab efforts will help convince Libya to accept these proposals.
Fatchett added that his talks in Syria also dealt with plenary discussions on regional and international issues, including protection of the environment. He stressed that Syrian - British relations are firm and strong, saying, "We hope these relations to be strengthened continually."
Replying to a question on whether he expects a resumption soon of talks on the Syrian and Lebanese tracks, Fatchett said, "There is Syrian interest in resuming these talks. President Hafez al-Assad, in person, clarified this point in his interest to resume these talks."
He added the he knows well the extent of the US desire to resume talks on the Syrian and Lebanese tracks.
"I want to say a very obvious and clear fact: that unless a peace is made between Syria and Lebanon on the one hand and Israel on the other there will be no justice, security and prosperity in the region. I assured President al-Assad of our readiness to provide any support for the success of this matter."
Replying to a question on whether his visit to Israel was scheduled in his current tour on the region and how he evaluates Israel's position concerning settlements, Fatchett said: "I have visited Syria, and I was in Jordan during the two past days. I wanted to visit Israel and the Palestinian Authority, but because of pressure resulting from the implementation of the Wye Plantation agreement, the arising disputes because of the situation and internal pressures, it was very difficult for Israel to introduce proper ministers to meet with me and to hold talks with me. Therefore we found it would be better if such a visit to Israel will be postponed to January or the beginning of February 1999."
Replying to a question on the position of Britain and the EU concerning the Middle East peace process, he said: "Europe has a direct historical, economic and cultural interest in the region. Therefore we are interested in carrying out an active role, but we will not compete with the US in this regard. Such a competition will be just a waste of energies and will help nobody," adding that the EU can play a complementary and constructive role in this respect.
Earlier in the day, Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Nasser Qaddour met with Fatchett. Developments in the region, the Middle East peace process and bilateral relations between Syria and Britain were reviewed.
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