Castro, Assad Discuss Middle East Crisis, Bilateral Ties
Cuban Leader Fidel Castro and Syrian President Bashar Al Assad discussed on Tuesday the latest situation in the Middle East and their bilateral ties, reported the official Syrian News Agency (SANA).
Syria is the last leg of Castro’s tour, which has already taken him to Algeria, Iran, Malaysia and Qatar.
A senior Syrian official, welcoming Castro's visit, described the Latin American Marxist chief as a "leader of a revolution that has shaken Latin America and crushed the imperialist schemes against Cuba."
"Castro never bowed to foreign pressure...he did not bargain on the rights of his country and people...turned Cuba into a citadel for strugglers and a haven for all honest people who are seeking to return freedom to their countries," the official told Reuters.
The official recalled that Castro had maintained strong ties with late Syrian President Hafez Al Assad, who died in June after ruling Syria with an iron grip for 30 years.
A senior Cuban official said Castro would renew his country's support for Syrian demands for full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel from Syria in the 1967 war, "as the basis for establishing a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East".
He told Reuters the talks would cover the possibilities of expanding economic and investment cooperation in Syria.
Meanwhile, the official said that an agreement was reached in principle during recent talks to barter Syrian commodities for Cuban sugar, adding that the talks would deal with what commodities Syria could export and the amount of sugar it needed to get in return.
Syria currently imports between 450,000 and 600,000 tons of sugar per year through regular international tenders by the government and direct deals by the private sector.
The economic discussions would also cover the possibility of Syrian investment in the Cuban sugar industry, which according to industrial sources needs cash to restore production capacity that had dropped sharply by the end of the last decade.
The collapse of the East Bloc of communist states deprived Cuba of a market that formerly brought in 75 percent of the funds it needed to finance sugar production.
Officials said Cuba needed cash to finance planting, refining and the rehabilitation of sugar factories.
Cuba's sugar production capacity amounted to over 8 million tons during the 1980s, but dropped to between 3.5 and 4.5 million tons during the late 1990s, one official said.
"Cuba consumes between 300,000 and 400,000 tons of sugar per year, and this means it has still large amounts of sugar to export," he said – Albawaba.com
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