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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 December, 2003, 14:51 GMT
Assad visits Egypt amid pressure
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad
Events in the region have put pressure on Assad
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad flew to Egypt on Wednesday as major events in the region put pressure on Damascus.

He and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak are scheduled to consider Libya's move to give up banned weapons programmes, the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and US pressure on Syria.

Egyptian Prime Minister Ataf Obeid said the summit came at a "critical time".

Mr Assad has recently made overtures to both Israel and Washington, which is threatening Syria with sanctions.

The Syrian Government called for talks with the US after President George W Bush approved a law threatening punishment if Syria does not rein in militants and stop seeking weapons of mass destruction.

Syria denies both sets of allegations.

Damascus said it wanted "a frank and constructive dialogue" over the law, which could ban US exports to Syria and freeze Syria's assets in the US.

Libyan move

Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi brought the issue of weapons of mass destruction into sharp focus recently by agreeing to give up his arms programmes.

Syria welcomed Libya's move on Tuesday.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad speaks with US Congressman Christopher Cox
End support for "terrorists"
Pull troops out of Lebanon
End acquisition and production of weapons of mass destruction and long-range ballistic missiles
Prevent terrorists and weapons from entering Iraq

Ban on sales of dual-use technology
Export ban
Prohibition of operations by US businesses
Limits on Syrian airline flights within US
Reduction of diplomatic contacts
Freeze on Syrian assets in US
Egypt, the major regional power-broker, maintains relations with the US and Israel as well as Syria.

It has criticised the US sanctions threat.

Damascus has described the law as: "Really bad - bad for Syria, bad for peace in the Middle East and bad for American-Syrian relations and American-Arab relations in general."

President Bush has sought to distance himself from the law, hinting he might waive some of its measures in the interests of national security.

"My approval of the act does not constitute my adoption of the various statements of policy in the act as US foreign policy," he said in a statement on Friday.

Syria is on the US State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism, along with North Korea, Sudan, Cuba, Iran and Libya.

It is the only one of these countries to have full diplomatic relations with Washington.

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Country profile: Syria
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