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Carter Meets Twice With Syrian President Assad

March 23, 1987|Associated Press

DAMASCUS, Syria — Former President Jimmy Carter met twice with President Hafez Assad on Sunday, a day after he urged the Syrian leader to use his influence to free the eight Americans held hostage in Lebanon.

Carter described his first three-hour meeting with Assad as very interesting, broad-ranging and pleasant. Asked if the hostages were discussed, he said such information should come from the Syrians.

A spokesman for Assad said the talks "focused on international relations, the situation in the Middle East and its developments as well as the Lebanese question." He gave no details.

Shared Information

After a banquet Assad hosted for Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, Carter again refused to talk about what he and Assad discussed. "I'll have something to say at the airport before I leave (for Jordan on Tuesday)," he said.

Carter, who is on a five-nation, 16-day tour of North Africa and the Middle East, has emphasized that he is traveling as a private citizen and is not here as an emissary of the Reagan Administration.

On Saturday, after arriving in Damascus from Egypt, Carter told reporters that Syria has shared information with the United States on the American hostages. Carter also said he would urge Syria to act "if there's information or influence than can be exerted" to obtain the release of the captives.

The eight Americans, along with 16 other foreigners, are believed held by at least four separate radical groups, mostly Shia Muslims loyal to Iran.

Most of the abductions took place in Muslim West Beirut between February, 1984, and last January. Syria, the main power broker in Lebanon, dispatched troops to West Beirut on Feb. 22 to end fighting between rival militias.

Syria is the Soviet Union's main ally in the Middle East. On Oct. 24, Washington recalled Ambassador William L. Eagleton Jr. from Damascus, charging that Syria was involved in international terrorism.

During his presidency, Carter angered the Syrians when he engineered the 1979 Camp David peace accord between Israel and Egypt. It was the first peace treaty between Israel and an Arab nation since the 1948 Middle East War.

Syria's official news media Sunday criticized U.S. policy in the Middle East.

The government newspaper Tishrin said in an editorial, "The Camp David signatories are launching new moves at the time U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar is preparing for a trip in the region to set the stage for convening an international conference on the Middle East."

It said Perez de Cuellar's mission "contradicts the strategy of the leaders of Tel Aviv and Washington, and they are prepared to abort any real chance for peace."

Syria champions the idea of a peace conference under United Nations auspices to discuss Israeli withdrawal from occupied Arab territories, including the Syrian Golan Heights, and restoration of Palestinian rights.

Damascus fears that an international peace conference on lines proposed by Egypt, Washington and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres would serve as an umbrella for direct talks between Israel and individual Arab states.

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