Britain's foreign minister in Syria for talks

January 27, 2011 05:34

LONDON — Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague arrived in Syria late Wednesday to hold talks with officials about political developments in Lebanon and the stalled Middle East peace process, officials said.

The Foreign Office said that Hague would meet with President Bashar Assad and Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem during the 24-hour visit.

Syria's president is close to Lebanon's new prime minister. The UK recognizes a strategic imperative to talk to Syria given its influence across the Middle East, a senior Foreign Office official said ahead of the visit.

He spoke on condition of anonymity, in line with departmental protocol.

The official said Syria's role in the region "looks set to darken" and said its shaky human rights record would also be discussed.

"We are not starry-eyed about engagement with Syria," he said.

Hague is also expected to discuss the threat posed by Iran's nuclear program and risks of broader proliferation in the Middle East. He's also scheduled to meet with business leaders and prominent Syrian women.

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