Cuba's Castro Meets with Syria's al-Assad

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HAVANA - President Bashar Assad of Syria sat down with Cuban leader Raul Castro on Monday as part of his first tour of Latin America, a trip that is taking him to meetings with many of the region's left-leaning governments.

A four-star army general, Raul Castro exchanged his traditional olive-green fatigues for a dark suit to host Assad at the stately Palace of the Revolution.

There was no word on what they discussed, but Cuban state media have said Assad was coming to promote cooperation between his Mideastern nation and the communist-run island.

Earlier, the governments of Cuba and Syria announced they had reached an agreement to jointly battle drug trafficking and help each other dismantle international smuggling syndicates working between both countries.

Assad's first Latin America stop was in Venezuela for talks with socialist President Hugo Chavez. After Cuba, he heads to Brazil, where President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is a friend of both Raul and Fidel Castro. Assad also plans a visit to Argentina, led by the center-left government of Cristina Fernandez.

Cuba and Syria are on a list of nations the U.S. considers state sponsors of terrorism, an allegation Havana has angrily denied for decades.

Assad spent much of the weekend with Venezuela's Chavez, who denounced Syria's neighbor Israel as a "genocidal" government.

On Sunday, Assad called Israel a state "based on crime, slaughter."

Also Monday, U.N. General Assembly president Ali Treki met with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez during the veteran Libyan diplomat's official visit to Cuba.

"I'd like to thank the United Nations for the role it plays in defending peace and international rights and, in particular, for its repeated resolutions seeking an unconditional end to the United States' economic and financial blockade against Cuba," Rodriguez said, referring to annual votes by the world body to condemn Washington's trade embargo - the last of which passed in October on a 187-3 vote.

"He honors us with his presence," Rodriguez said of Treki, who took the helm of the General Assembly last year.

Treki saluted Cuba for sending troops to African nations like Angola in the 1970s amid fighting for independence from colonial rulers.

"In Africa we feel very appreciative of Cuba for its role and that of President Fidel Castro in the liberation of our continent," Treki said through an interpreter. "In Africa, we never forget what Cuba did."

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© 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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