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Maliki Meets Assad, US Grumbles
US Officials Urge Iraqi Prime Minister to Send "Strong Message" to Syrian Leader
08/21/2007 10:20 AM ET
Photo by Louai Beshara/AFP-Getty Images

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad shakes hands with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki at al-Shaab palace in Damascus today. The embattled Maliki is in Syria for a three-day visit, holding talks with officials on his first trip to the neighboring nation since taking office early last year.

"We are not complimentary in our speech, we want this visit to be a success and we are interested in stabilising Iraq and improving its situation," al-Assad told the Iraqi leader at the start of the talks. "Yes, we have mutual interests, and there are real challenges, we have to combine our stances to solve problems and to weave a network of good relations for both countries," al-Maliki responded.

There were reports that Assad was prepared to offer a security pact that could tighten the Syrian border against foreign fighters crossing into Iraq. Assad did not publicly confirm, but did pledge that Damsascus was "ready to offer everything helping in Iraq's stability".

The United States, which already criticised a similar trip by Maliki to US foe Iran earlier this month, said it hoped the premier was delivering a 'strong message' to the Syrian leadership about its role in Iraq.

Iraq and Syria restored diplomatic relations in December 2006, during a visit by Foreign Minister Walid al-Mualem to Baghdad, after a quarter of a century of estrangement.


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