Syrian President Meets Iraqi Deputy PM
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met Tuesday with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz, who arrived in Damascus late the previous day on an unannounced visit, the president's spokesman said.
Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq al-Shara and the delegation accompanying Aziz, who was heading to Venezuela for the OPEC summit, also attended the meeting, spokesman Gebran Kourieh said.
The two countries wish to improve their relations, an Arab diplomatic source said.
Iraqi Trade Minister Mohammed Mehdi Saleh and Syrian Industry Minister Ahmed Hamo, who met in Baghdad, said Sunday they wished to increase economic exchanges, including trade.
"Bilateral trade in the oil-for-food program passed 500 million dollars, and we want to increase that," Saleh said.
Iraq is allowed to make limited purchases of necessities under UN supervision. Baghdad has been under a UN embargo since it invaded Kuwait in 1990.
Aziz traveled to Syria Monday evening via the Tanaf crossing point, Syria's official SANA news agency said without telling the purpose or duration of his visit.
Aziz was last in Syria in 1997, as Damascus and Baghdad started to normalize their relations.
The two countries, ruled by rival branches of the Baath party, broke off diplomatic ties in the early 1980s because of Damascus' support for Tehran in the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88.
They started to normalize relations by opening their common border to businessmen and officials in 1997, and in March 1999 Iraq opened an interests section in Damascus.
Iraq's foreign and trade ministers have been notable among the top Iraqis who have since visited Syria – DAMASCUS (AFP)
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