Syrian President Off to Iran Again

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DAMASCUS - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will pay an official state visit to Iran over the weekend, Syria's state-run news agency, SANA, reported on Friday.

Assad will meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to discuss "the latest developments on the regional and international arenas" based on "the distinguished bilateral relations between the two friendly countries."

The two leaders have been holding ongoing talks on "raising the level of economic and developmental cooperation" in "strategic" issues such as oil, gas, railways and tourism.

Assad and Ahmadinejad are also discussing "the necessity of getting Iraq out of the crisis of forming a government to preserve its unity, stability and security."

Last spring, Syria and Iran signed memos of understanding to increase cooperation in trade, economy, investment, banking, communications, information technology, health, education, higher education, agriculture, electricity, industry, transport and statistics, according to the report.

In February, the two allies signed an agreement eliminating the need for entry visas between them.

Meanwhile, a U.S. delegation led by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem and other senior officials in New York to discuss ways of developing bilateral relations "in the interest of countries, security and stability in the region," SANA reported.

According to the report, Clinton and Moallem agreed on "the necessity to continue constructive dialogue...and to eliminate the obstacles hindering the normalization of bilateral relations."

Regarding the Middle East peace process, Clinton "renewed President Barack Obama's commitment to work for the realization of the peace on all tracks of the peace process," SANA reported.

Moallem stressed that Syria is awaiting "deed and not words from Israel to prove…its willingness" to make peace in the region.

They also discussed "their keenness to see Lebanon stable and secure enjoying distinguished relations with Syria."

Obama administration Mideast envoy George Mitchell and his assistant, Frederick Hoff; Undersecretary for Political Affairs William Burns; and Acting Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Jerry Feltman were part of the U.S. delegation.

Deputy Foreign Minister Dr. Fayssal Mikdad, Syrian Ambassador to Washington Dr. Imad Moustapha, and Director of Foreign Media Department Bushra Kanafani participated in the meeting.

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