Clinton to visit Syria

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The Independent Online
(First Edition) WASHINGTON (Reuter) - President Bill Clinton will visit Damascus for talks with the Syrian President Hafez al-Assad next week as part of a trip to the Middle East, the White House said yesterday.

Mr Clinton, the first president to visit Syria since Richard Nixon in 1974, will stop in Damascus on Thursday morning, the White House said. His schedule also includes Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

The primary purpose of Mr Clinton's trip is to witness the signing of a peace agreement between Jordan and Israel at the border town of al-Aqaba on Wednesday. He will also address the Jordanian parliament and the Israeli Knesset during the visit.

An administration official said the President was making the visit to Damascus 'to encourage progress in the Syrian-Israel negotiations'. He is expected to be in the Syrian capital for several hours and will fly from there to Tel Aviv. One sign that Syria, which still remains on the US list of countries supporting terrorism, is not totally out in the cold, is that US officials immediately contacted the Syrians to seek help in controlling recent Hamas attacks against Israel.

Mr Clinton saw Mr Assad in January in Geneva and said he found the Arab leader disposed to reaching a settlement. But five trips by the Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, have not broken a deadlock over the Golan Heights, the Israeli-held enclave that Mr Assad wants to get back.