EU: Ties with Syria hinge on its ME involvement

Europe's drive to thaw relations with Syria hinges on the willingness of Damascus to help stabilize the Middle East, notably in Lebanon and Iraq, the European Union's foreign affairs chief said Thursday. Javier Solana, who met in Damascus earlier this week with President Bashar Assad, said Europe looks to Syria to help defuse the Israel-Palestinian conflict, stop backing Hizbullah and their protests in Beirut that seek to topple the western-backed government there, and help stem violence in Iraq. Syrians say the West now understands it is essential to engage their country to calm regional trouble spots. Yet "there are still important problems" blocking a normalization of relations, Solana told reporters on arrival at an EU-Southeast Asia foreign ministers meeting. He said the EU was ready to engage Syria in a dialogue on these issues, adding that there would be a "follow-up" to his Damascus visit. He did not elaborate.