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EU envoy urges Syria to help on Lebanon, Iraq

DAMASCUS (Reuters) - The European Union’s foreign policy chief urged Syria on Wednesday to do more to help stabilize Lebanon and Iraq during a visit that ended a two-year freeze on high-level EU contacts with Damascus.

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Javier Solana said he had called on Syria to crack down on alleged smuggling of arms across the border into Lebanon and exert “maximum effort” to help implement a U.N. resolution requiring the disarmament of its Lebanese ally Hezbollah.

“This is fundamental to reach peace, stability and independence of Lebanon,” Solana said after meeting President Bashar al-Assad.

Syria says Hezbollah is a resistance movement and is entitled to keep its arms as long as Israel holds what Damascus and Beirut regard as occupied Lebanese land.

Solana met Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem and Vice President Farouq al-Shara before seeing Assad.

Solana’s tour of Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Syria comes after France dropped its objections to EU contacts with Damascus, which a U.N. inquiry has implicated in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik al-Hariri.

The European Union wants Syria to back the creation of a tribunal to try suspects in the killing.

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Moualem said: “We haven’t said that we are against the tribunal. There are (Lebanese) differences about its statutes.”

Syria -- which denies involvement in the assassination -- is seen as key to unlocking the four-month political deadlock between the anti-Syrian majority in Lebanon and rival factions including its Hezbollah allies.

Damascus has also links with players in Iraq. It took part along with the United States at this weekend’s Baghdad conference aimed at finding ways out of the chaos, despite U.S. allegations that Syria and Iran are helping insurgents there.

Damascus has set a price for cooperation, including seeking the support of Washington for its campaign to regain the Golan Heights occupied by Israel in 1967.

Solana said the European Union supports Syria’s peaceful campaign to regain the Golan, a mountainous plateau overlooking Damascus that has been the focal point of Syrian foreign policy.

“We would like to work as much as possible to see your country Syria recuperate the territory taken in 1967,” Solana told a joint news conference with Moualem.