Page last updated at 13:47 GMT, Friday, 13 June 2008 14:47 UK

Kouchner perturbed by Assad visit

By Hugh Schofield
BBC News, Paris

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner
Mr Kouchner said he was not "especially amused"

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner says he is not comfortable with a decision to invite the Syrian president to Paris next month.

Mr Kouchner said he was not "especially amused" - though he acknowledged that such visits helped to ease tensions.

President Bashar al-Assad is among 50 heads of state and government invited to a summit meeting in Paris, followed by French national day celebrations.

President Nicolas Sarkozy recently said he hoped for better ties with Syria.

Indeed, the invitation to Mr Assad marks a major shift in policy.

Relations between the two countries have been at rock bottom since the 2005 assassination of the Lebanese former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, with Paris sharing the widespread suspicion that Damascus may have had a hand.

But latest developments in Lebanon have encouraged a rapprochement.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad
France says Mr Assad has kept his word over Lebanon

Last month a new Lebanese President, Michel Suleiman, was elected after months of deadlock, and in Beirut last weekend President Sarkozy indicated that he wanted links with all interested parties there, including Syria.

Mr Assad has since received an invitation to attend the launching of Mr Sarkozy's pet project, the Mediterranean Union, on 13 July in Paris, and the next day's military parade down the Champs Elysees to celebrate Bastille Day.

Opposition leaders in Paris say it is a dangerous signal, but the government says that Syria has kept its word not to block the election of Mr Suleiman.

Speaking on French radio, Mr Kouchner said the invitation to President Assad did not give him any pleasure, but it was what had to be done. Opponents had to talk, he said.

Sarkozy presses Lebanon on peace
07 Jun 08 |  Middle East
High hopes for Lebanese president
26 May 08 |  Middle East
Q&A: Lebanon crisis deal
25 May 08 |  Middle East
Country profile: Syria
04 Apr 08 |  Country profiles

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