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Last Updated: Friday, 9 March 2007, 12:06 GMT
EU plans to re-engage with Syria
Foreign policy chief Javier Solana
Solana is to visit Saudi Arabia and Lebanon next week
The European Union is preparing to restart high-level contacts with Syria for the first time in two years.

Foreign policy chief Javier Solana is to go to Damascus for talks on Lebanon and the Middle East, foreign ministers for Ireland and Sweden confirmed.

France has blocked contact since the assassination of ex-Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri, in which Syrian figures were implicated in a UN-appointed inquiry.

Damascus denies any involvement in the Hariri attack, which killed 22 people.

Correspondents say French President Jacques Chirac, a close friend of Mr Hariri, blocked all overtures from the Syrian side and any visit by Mr Solana would mark a major change in EU policy.

Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern, whose country has troops in the UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon, said there was a growing recognition the bloc needed to re-engage with Damascus because of its central role in the region.

"As we know from our own experience, rather than turning our back on people, diplomacy is what is required," he said.

No date has been announced for Mr Solana's visit. He is scheduled to tour the region next week.

In Lebanon itself, two key political opponents have met amid signs that a political crisis pitting pro-Syrian and pro-Western could be nearing an end.

A joint statement from pro-Syrian parliament speaker Nabih Berri and Saad Hariri, leader of the pro-Western parliament majority, said their meeting was "positive and identified points of convergence that require further consultation and discussions between the two parties".

It was their first meeting since the crisis erupted in November.

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