NEWS

Papandreou to meet with Syrian leader

Foreign Minister George Papandreou is to travel to Damascus tomorrow for a meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad in an effort to use Greece’s traditionally good relations with Arab states to gain support for the US-led coalition against international terrorism. Papandreou also plans to visit other countries in the region, including Iran, when this can be arranged, the government spokesman said. Preparations are being made through diplomatic channels so that he will then be able to visit other countries, such as Iran, spokesman Dimitris Reppas said yesterday. Papandreou and Assad will discuss regional and broader issues, he said. Mr. Papandreou will try to play an interventionary role, so that a dialogue on the issues that currently concern the international community at this time can include as many governments and states as possible. Among these is Syria, as are other countries in the region, Reppas said. US Ambassador Thomas Miller, after meeting with Papandreou on Thursday, said he hoped the Greek minister can use his special relationship to get support from those countries. Papandreou’s visit will also help reinvigorate ties between Greece and Syria and express the EU’s interest in having good relations with Damascus. Papandreou visited Israel and the Palestinian Authority over the weekend following the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States. After he held separate meetings with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, there were strong expectations that the latter two would meet in Athens. On Thursday Arafat addressed the ruling PASOK party’s congress in Athens but Peres, though expected, did not come. Instead, Israel’s Labor Party was represented by Transport Minister Ephraim Sneh, who did not meet with Arafat. Addressing the congress yesterday, Sneh attacked Arafat, using language that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has used against the Palestinian leader. Don’t side with terrorism, Sneh said. You can’t take sides with those who adopt the policy of bin Laden. Interior Minister Vasso Papandreou, chairing the meeting, responded,I want to stress that the position of Greece is clear, we are against terrorism and we are in favor of peace.