French FM uneasy over Assad visit

But Bernard Kouchner says Syria has made progress by resuming peace talks with Israel.

kouchner 224.88 ap (photo credit: AP)
kouchner 224.88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
France's foreign minister said Friday he is uncomfortable the president of Syria has been invited to Paris's Bastille Day parade, even though such visits are necessary to keep dialogue open. "I'm not especially amused" by Syrian President Bashar Assad's visit, Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said on Europe-1 radio. But he said Syria has made progress by resuming peace talks with Israel. The visit "doesn't leave me totally at ease, but this is what we have to do or else we'll maintain a state of tensions, difficulties and probably confrontations," Kouchner said. Assad has been invited to France in July along with other leaders of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, including Israel, to discuss President Nicolas Sarkozy's plan for a union of Mediterranean countries. While they are in France, they have also been invited to attend the July 14 Bastille Day parade. French-Syrian relations soured after the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a longtime friend of former French President Jacques Chirac. Many in Lebanon and the West accuse Syria of involvement in Hariri's death. The Syrian government has denied that. But relations between the two countries have improved lately. Sarkozy, Chirac's successor, re-established dialogue after his election in May 2007.