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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 March 2007, 11:00 GMT
EU reopens dialogue with Syrians
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana (left) and Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallim
EU officials have kept clear of Syria since the Hariri assassination
The European Union's foreign policy chief has held talks with Syrian leaders in Damascus - the last stop on his three-day tour of the region.

Javier Solana met the foreign minister, the vice president and later spent one hour with President Bashar al-Assad.

It was their first meeting since the killing of former Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri two years ago, which prompted the EU to suspend contacts with Syria.

Damascus has denied allegations that its officials were behind the bombing.

Mr Solana is expected to hold a press conference later on Wednesday.

Ahead of the talks, an EU official said Mr Solana would make clear that, in exchange for an end to Syria's international isolation, President Assad would have to take a constructive approach throughout the Middle East, particularly in Lebanon.

It was France's President Jacques Chirac, a close friend of Mr Hariri, who had vetoed contacts with Damascus after the February 2005 killing.

Mr Solana travelled to Syria from Saudi Arabia, which has been playing an increasingly energetic diplomatic role regarding Lebanon and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

During the visit, Prince Saud al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, described as "ludicrous" an Israeli suggestion the "right of return" for Palestinian refugees be negotiated before it agrees in principle to an Arab peace plan.

Israeli officials have recently expressed interest in the proposal, adopted by the Arab League in 2002, while voicing some reservations.

The Arab League is due to relaunch the original plan at a summit in Riyadh later this month.


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