BRUSSELS (AFP) -EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana will on Monday begin a three-day trip to the Middle East that will see him visit Syria for the first time in two years.
The European Union hopes the visit, which starts in Beirut, will help ease the political crisis in Lebanon and encourage the reconciliation of rival Palestinian factions.
Official EU talks with Syria have been frozen since former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri was assassinated in a car bomb in Beirut in February 2005. The attack has been at least partly blamed on Damascus.
On Monday Solana will meet the president of the Lebanese parliament, Nabih Berri, before having lunch with Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, with whom he will hold a press conference afterwards.
After a stopover in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, he will arrive in Damascus on Wednesday for talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“I have a (EU) mandate for this trip, including in Syria, to tell them we want them to work with us and with the international community, particularly on the Lebanon issue,” Solana said after a European summit in Brussels on Friday.
He will stress the advantages of playing a “constructive” role in the Middle East — starting by urging the pro-Syrian opposition in Lebanon, including Hezbollah, to back a special tribunal on Hariri’s killing — and having a steady political relationship with Brussels, a European diplomatic source said.
Solana’s trip comes as the EU wants to benefit from “new elements,” which it believes could open up new diplomatic avenues.
Thus European diplomats regularly praise the “fundamentally new” role of Saudi Arabia following the inter-Palestinian deal signed at Mecca on March 8.
This climate helped persuade French President Jacques Chirac, who was close to Hariri, to lift his objections to Solana’s trip to Damascus.