Baker in landmark visit

JEDDAH (Reuter) - The US Secretary of State, James Baker, arrived in Saudi Arabia yesterday on the last leg of a six-nation tour to revitalise the Middle East peace process.

Earlier yesterday he became the first American leader to visit Lebanon in nine years when he slipped across the border from Syria to discuss Middle East peace.

Mr Baker had nearly three hours of talks with President Elias Hrawi at Mr Hrawi's home in Zahle, 30 miles east of Beirut. 'This (visit) is a sign of the independence of Lebanon,' Mr Baker told a news conference before returning to Syria from where he flew on to Saudi Arabia.

Mr Baker crossed eastern Lebanon's Bekaa Valley - policed by Syrian troops but a bastion of pro- Iranian Muslim militants - to discuss peace with the Lebanese on their own turf.

The visit was a boost for a Lebanese government seeking recognition of its efforts to restore order following 15 years of civil war and the Western hostage crisis. Mr Hrawi said it proved the civil war had ended, but added that Lebanon would never be permanently at peace until Israel withdrew its troops from the south of his country, in line with UN demands.

The Prime Minister, Rashid al- Solh, and the Foreign Minister, Faris Bouez, both attended the talks which were held under tight security.

ISTANBUL - Iraqi Kurdish leaders headed for Washington for a meeting next Wednesday with the US Secretary of State, James Baker, writes Hugh Pope.

Kurdish sources said a six- strong delegation of Iraqi opposition figures would probably include two from each of Iraq's three main groups - Kurds, Arab Sunnis and Shias.