CAIRO, Egypt (AP) – Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak flew unexpectedly to Damascus on Friday for talks with beleaguered Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad on his country”s crisis with the West over the killing of a former Lebanese leader.
Mubarak will discuss with Assad efforts underway at the Security Council to impose sanctions on Syria if it doesn”t cooperate with the U.N. investigation into Rafik Hariri”s Feb. 14 assassination, Egypt”s Middle East News Agency said.
"Escalated developments in the region" prompted Mubarak”s unscheduled visit, MENA added. Egypt”s Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said the Syrian crisis was "complicated" and that his government will advise Assad”s "to deal objectively and flexibly with all probabilities."
"We want to avoid another crisis in the Middle East," Aboul Gheit told reporters before departing to Syria with Mubarak.
Mubarak, 77, is regarded as an influential figure in Middle Eastern politics and has close ties with the United States.
The United States, France and Britain are promoting a Security Council resolution threatening tough sanctions against Syria if it fails to cooperate with the U.N. probe, which has already implicated Syrian officials in Hariri”s killing.
The resolution also requires Syria to detain any official or civilian that U.N. investigators consider a suspect in Hariri”s killing and let the individual be questioned outside Syria or without Syrian officials present.
The United States has said that would include calling Assad himself for questioning. The Syrian leader has not yet accepted U.N. requests to be interviewed in the probe. The Security Council is expected to resume discussions on the resolution resume Monday.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan will visit Cairo next month to meet Mubarak as Arab states reach out to world powers, including the United States, to avert an escalation of regional tensions, the Egyptian foreign minister said.
Chief U.N. investigator Detlev Mehlis released his report earlier this month implicating top Syrian and Lebanese security officials in the massive bombing that killed Hariri and 20 other people in the Lebanese capital, Beirut. Mehlis also accused Syria of refusing to cooperate with his probe.
Syria has sharply criticized the U.N. report, but expressed willingness to cooperate in the continuing investigation.
Assad visited Cairo last month seeking Egypt”s support to use its good relations with the United States to open a dialogue with the Bush administration to solve the crisis.
Washington and the Iraqi government also accuse Syria of allowing foreign terrorists and arms flow over its border into Iraq. Israel also says Syria encourages radical Palestinian factions to continue their armed struggle against the Jewish state.