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Iraq, Syria Establish Diplomatic Relations

Zebari (right) with al-Muallim in Baghdad on November 19 (epa) PRAGUE, November 21, 2006 -- The foreign ministers of Iraq and Syria jointly confirmed at a press conference today in Baghdad that their two countries have restored diplomatic ties.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said that "we hope to follow this step with real and practical procedures so we can have an official channel for continuous dialogue."

The two countries severed relations 24 years ago over Syria's siding with Iran in its 1980-88 war with Iraq. Damascus at the time accused Iraq of helping fuel antigovernment riots in Syria by the banned Muslim Brotherhood.

The Syrian government's crackdown on the Islamist militants included leveling much of Syria's own city of Hama in 1982, killing up to 25,000 people according to Amnesty International's estimates.

Syria Wants Voice In Iraq's Future

But now the two states want to forget the events of the early 1980s and concentrate on the present. And that present is dominated by instability in Iraq which shows no sign of abating.

Speaking shortly after arriving on November 19, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallim said Damascus "supports the political process and the elected Iraqi government."

But he also called for setting a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. and other foreign troops from Iraq, saying that it would "help reduce violence in Iraq and maintain security."

Those words, intended for Washington, underline the sensitivity of the timing of al-Muallim's visit.

At a news briefing in Washington on November 20, U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said that what Washington "would like to see the Syrians do is take actions to, among other things, prevent foreign fighters from coming across the border into Iraq and again to back up the positive words that they have with some real concrete steps. I think, as we have always said with respect to the Syrians, you know, the problem is not what they say, the problem is what they do."

Meanwhile, Iraqi officials today denied press reports that the presidents of Iraq, Iran, and Syria would meet in Tehran on November 25-26.

(compiled from agency reports)

Iraq In Transition

Iraq In Transition

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