Assad in Paris for first time over three years
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his wife arrived in Paris on Saturday for talks with President Nicolas Sarkozy and to attend a Mediterranean conference. The visit marks Assad's comeback on the international stage after being shunned by Sarkozy's predecessor Jacques Chirac over the 2005 assassination of ex-Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri.
On Sunday, the Syrian leader will join some 40 other foreign leaders at the founding summit of the Union for the Mediterranean, a forum aimed at bolstering cooperation between Europe, the Middle East and north Africa.
On Friday, al-Assad said: " What Syria wants of France is to be an active state in the framework of the peace process, especially if we have to move from indirect negotiations with Israel for direct negotiations in addition to the interest in the Syrian-French partnership."
In an interview with French newspaper L' Humanite, the Syrian president added that the Syrian-French relations require more political dialogues and developing economic relations in the field of oil exploration, electric power and transportation, especially, the aviation field and regional trade in general.
He said: " France is keen on stability in the Middle East, the peace process, settling the political crisis in Lebanon, the future of Iraq and on the Palestinian reconciliation with the aim of completing the peace process in addition to fighting terrorism," he said.
Al Assad mentioned that the change in the French policy is linked to the arrival Sarkozy to the presidency. " It is necessary to strengthen role of France to push the United States to be more positive toward the Arab issues in the region," the Syrian leader said.