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EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said Friday he will travel to Syria next week to discuss the crisis in Lebanon. The surprise visit will be the first by a senior EU official to Damascus in more than two years.
"I'll go to Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and then to Syria," Solana said during a summit of EU leaders in Brussels. "The Council has mandated me to undertake this trip."
His spokeswoman Cristina Gallach said Solana will visit Riyadh on Monday and Beirut on Tuesday.
The assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri two years ago angered many in Europe and caused a lasting rift in relations between Damascus and Brussels. No high-level delegation EU has visited Damascus since 2004.
"We never cut relations, they were never frozen, but they were very, very cold," Gallach said.
The EU has repeatedly criticized Syria for being a destabilizing influence in Lebanon, where it backs Hizbullah, the Lebanese Shiite group that battled Israeli forces last summer and has been demanding the resignation of Lebanon's Western-backed prime minister.
A statement released Friday by EU leaders expressed the bloc's backing for Lebanon's sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence.
French President Jacques Chirac, who also attended the summit, said he approved Solana's mission.
"He leaves with a clear message which has a consensus (at the summit). We decided that Europe would talk in one voice, that of Mr. Solana," Chirac told reporters.
Gallach said Solana would tell the Syrians "the role the EU would like them to play to be a constructive and stabilizing influence in Lebanon."
Solana's tour is also intended to show support for Saudi Arabia's efforts overcoming intra-Palestinian rivalries and helping heal the emerging divide between Muslim Sunnis and Shiites in the Middle East, she said.
"Saudi Arabia is also very engaged in unblocking the political stalemate in Lebanon between the majority and Hizbullah (and) we hope this trip will assist this dynamic," Gallach said.
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