Assad Extends Visit to Kuwait, Holds Talks on Iraq with Emir
Syrian President Bashar Al Assad decided Sunday to extend his visit to Kuwait in order to continue talks with Kuwait's Emir Sheikh Jaber Al Ahmad Al Sabah on the 11-year-old dispute between the emirate and Iraq, sources told AFP.
Talks between Assad and Sheikh Jaber focused on a number of economic and political issues, including the stand-off between Kuwait and Iraq, an official Kuwaiti source told the agency.
Assad explained to the emir Damascus' perspective that the wide-ranging international economic sanctions imposed on Baghdad for invading Kuwait in 1990 had harmed the Iraqi people, the source said.
Kuwait maintains that the Iraqi regime should be held responsible for prolonging the embargo by refusing to comply with UN Security Council resolutions implemented after the invasion.
However, a top Kuwaiti official earlier told reporters that his country, which was invaded by its neighbor in the 1990-1991 Gulf War, differentiated between the Iraqi regime and the people of Iraq. He said Kuwait supported any movement that helped eliminate the suffering of the Iraqis.
The Syrian leader, on his first trip to Kuwait since taking office a year ago, extended his visit to continue talks, but it was not clear whether discussions would focus solely on Iraq, said the agency.
"Due to the brotherly atmosphere surrounding the visit (of Assad) and topics of mutual interest, the visit has been extended by another day," the official Kuwaiti news agency, KUNA, said.
A Kuwaiti official said the visit was extended because of Assad's "overcrowded agenda."
Assad held talks Saturday with Crown Prince Sheikh Saad Abdullah Al Sabah and other top Kuwaiti officials, reports said.
Assad’s visit to the Gulf emirate, which had been postponed earlier, came days after Damascus and Baghdad’s ties witnessed a remarkable improvement after more than two decades of enmity.
Syrian Prime Minister Mustafa Miro last week visited Baghdad, where he signed ten cooperation agreements. Earlier, the two countries had signed a free trade zone agreement, and a railway line had been activated.
But Kuwaiti officials quoted in news reports said that the visit of the president, the first since he assumed power a year ago, had nothing to do with Syrian-Iraqi rapprochement.
Apart from his meeting with Sheikh Saad, who is also prime minister, Assad met in the early evening with Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, KUNA said, but did not elaborate on the talks.
The foreign minister said that the emirate was unaware of an initiative by Assad to hold a three-way meeting between Iraq, Kuwait and Syria, according to a report in the daily Al Seyassah newspaper on Saturday.
Meanwhile, KUNA reported Sunday that Acting Kuwaiti Parliament Speaker Mubarak Al Khreinej had said Saturday that his country would never interfere in inter-Arab relations and asserted that Miro's visit to Baghdad was "an internal Syrian-Iraqi affair."
Speaking to reporters after receiving Assad, Khreinej said Kuwait’s position was brushing aside all allegations that it was against the inter-Arab reunion.
Regarding a possible Syrian role in or promises to solve the issue of Kuwaiti prisoners in Iraq, Khreinej said, "there are no promises."
However, the speaker said he hoped to "hear new news from President Al Assad over the release of our prisoners."
Kuwait says Iraq has been holding over 600 Kuwaiti and third-country national prisoners since the war.
In its editorial Sunday, Al Rai Al Aam daily urged more “investing” in the improving Iraqi-Syrian ties to the interest of Kuwait.
Kuwait and Syria last week signed three cooperation agreements on administration, agriculture and investment at the end of a joint ministerial meeting held in Damascus.
Over the past three decades, said AFP, the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development has granted Syria over $1 billion in loans for development projects, most of which came after the 1990 Iraqi invasion of the oil-rich emirate.
Syria fought alongside a US-led coalition which ousted Iraqi occupation troops from Kuwait in the Gulf War. But Damascus and Baghdad started to normalize ties in 1997 with the restoration of economic links.
In January, Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq Al Shara, who is accompanying Assad, renewed his country's support for the territorial integrity of Kuwait, following claims to the territory in Iraq's official press – Albawaba.com
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)
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