DAMASCUS — In advance of the arrival of U.S. Special Middle East Envoy George Mitchell for meetings with Syrian and Lebanese leaders, on June 10, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter travelled to Damascus from Beirut to meet the Syrian president and foreign minister.
The former U.S. president had been in Beirut as one of 250 international observers overseeing the hotly-contested Lebanese parliamentary elections. The pro-Western March 14 alliance, led by Saad Al-Hariri, carried the election. Lebanon’s Daily Star quoted Carter as expressing his “admiration and respect” for the Lebanese people, saying they had “organised the elections in a proper and legitimate manner, despite many challenges”.
Though it has been almost 30 years since Carter left the White House, he has spent much of his time since promoting dialogue and peace in the Middle East and improving relations between the West and the Arab world. Carter and Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Moallam agreed during their talks on “the need to remove all obstacles standing in the way of better relations between Damascus and Washington”.
Carter was anxious to exchange views with Al-Moallam on the future of Hezbollah, the armed Shiite group backed by Syria, which both the U.S. and Israel regard as a terrorist organisation. Political analysts had expected Hezbollah to win the Lebanese elections in a landslide, but when the polls closed on June 7, it was already evident that the March 14 alliance had succeeded in retaining its parliamentary majority.
Al-Moallam said that both he and the Syrian government hoped to see “a spirit of conciliation” between Hezbollah, which still wields considerable influence inside Lebanon, and the March 14 alliance.
During his visit to Damascus, Carter also met Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. The two men reviewed the situation in Palestine and emphasised the need to reach a comprehensive and constructive peace accord.
Sources: Syrian news agency SANA/