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Page last updated at 11:37 GMT, Friday, 13 November 2009

Syria urges French Mid-East role

Bashar Assad at the Syrian presidential palace in Damascus, Syria, on 12 November 2009
Assad said he was disappointed by Obama's record in the Middle East

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has called for France to play a bigger role in Middle East peace efforts.

Mr Assad said the issue would be the focal point of his talks in Paris with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

He said he was disappointed by Barack Obama's record in the region, saying no plan of action had been developed since he took over the White House.

The message comes days after Israel's PM Benjamin Netanyahu told Mr Sarkozy he was ready for talks with Syria.

"France must act," said Mr Assad ahead of Friday's talks with his French counterpart.

He criticised what he called the US "weak link" in efforts for renewed peace talks in the Middle East in an interview with the French daily Le Figaro.

French interests

During the Paris talks with Mr Assad, Mr Sarkozy is expected to pass on the message that Israel is prepared for serious talks on a peace deal with Damascus.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner
Bernard Kouchner is due to travel to the Middle East to promote talks

Senior Israeli officials say Mr Netanyahu told President Sarkozy he would be willing to meet President Assad "any time anywhere to move on the peace negotiations on the basis of no pre-conditions".

The Israelis deny that Mr Netanyahu expressed his willingness to withdraw from the Golan Heights - territory captured by Israel during the 1967 Six Day War.

Syria wants the area back and is not interested in negotiations unless they produce this outcome.

While Israel is interested in drawing Syria away from more radical elements in the region - Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas - it is far from clear that Mr Netanyahu is willing to pay the price of the Golan Heights to achieve this goal, says the BBC's diplomatic correspondent, Jonathan Marcus.

France has a strong interest in pushing for Israel-Syria talks, our correspondent adds, as it has been the leading player in Europe in trying to bring Damascus in from the diplomatic cold.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner is due to travel to the region in the next few days in an effort to promote talks between Israelis and Palestinians.



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