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(photo credit: AP)
Syria's leader told French envoys on Sunday it was important that Lebanese be encouraged to find a compromise head of state and were allowed to hold elections without foreign interference, the Syrian Arab News Agency said.
SANA said Assad spoke with Claude Gueant, President Nicolas Sarkozy's chief of staff, and Jean-David Levitte, his chief international adviser. Except for Lebanon, they also discussed bilateral relations and the Middle East peace effort.
It was the highest-level visit by French officials to Syria in more than two years, and came as Lebanon has been undergoing its worst political crisis since the end of the 1975-90 civil war.
The foreign ministers of France and Syria, Bernard Kouchner and Walid al-Moallem, discussed Lebanon on the margins of last week's Iraq conference. Al-Moallem said they agreed that Lebanese should elect a "consensus president" without any foreign interference and according to constitutional rules.
Despite marathon discussions between pro-government and opposition leaders in the parliament, the two groups have made no headway in electing a new president.
SANA said Assad and the envoys shared "identical" points of view "that the Lebanese elect their next president freely and without any foreign inference."
In Paris, a statement from Sarkozy's spokesman said the meeting with Assad "was within the framework of the efforts France has been making for several months to encourage the search for a solution to the crisis Lebanon is currently going through."
Syria dominated its smaller neighbor for nearly 30 years before it was forced by international pressure to withdraw its tens of thousands of troops from Lebanon in 2005.
Lebanon's parliament is scheduled to make another attempt to elect a president on Nov. 12, but as with the two previous attempts in September and October, the government and the opposition have been unable to reach a compromise ahead of the session.
Failure to pick a leader to replace pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud, whose term expires Nov. 24, could throw the country into further political chaos.
French and Syrian relations have been cold since the Feb. 14, 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, which many have blamed on Syria - a claim that Damascus denies.