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Syrian, Iraqi Presidents Hold Plenary Meeting
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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his visiting Iraqi counterpart Jalal Talabani held a plenary meeting Sunday afternoon with the attendance of officials from both sides, the official SANA news agency reported.

The meeting was held after an official reception given by Assad at his presidential People's Palace, SANA said.

Assad said in a welcoming speech that the visit of the large and high-level Iraqi delegation showed the desire of both countries to advance bilateral relations.

"The visit aimed at strengthening bilateral cooperation in all fields. We hope this will be a successful visit," Assad said.

Talabani, who had lived in exile in Syria for years during Saddam Hussein's rein, said he was glad to return to Syria, expressing appreciation for the support by Bashar, his late father Hafez and their country Syria.

"Syria provided political, military and material support to the Iraqi people during the fight against autarchy," Talabani said, adding that Iraq intended to establish better relations with Syriain all fields, including economy, trade and oil.

Talabani arrived in Damascus earlier in the day with a delegation including the interior, trade, and water ministers and chief of the State Oil Marketing Organization, kicking off a landmark visit to Syria after a quarter-century's rupture between the two neighbors.

Talabani is the first Iraqi head of state to visit Syria in nearly three decades. The last visit was by Saddam's predecessor, Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr, in 1979.

Talabani's visit came only days after US President George W. Bush announced a new Iraqi strategy which outlines tough actions against alleged Syrian and Iranian meddling in Iraq.

Syria has been constantly accused by Washington of doing little to stop foreign fighters from infiltrating into Iraq and thus destabilizing the situation there.

Damascus denied the charges, saying that it is cooperating with Iraq on strengthening security along their borders.

In a media interview on Sunday, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said tightening border controls, cracking down on the infiltration of fighters and other security issues would be among those Talabani would discuss with the Syrian leaders.

Syria and Iraq restored full diplomatic relations last November during a visit by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem to Iraq, who pledged to help in securing the war-ravaged country.

Diplomatic relations between the two countries broke off in the 1980s as Damascus took the side of Tehran in the eight-year Iran-Iraq war.

(Xinhua News Agency January 15, 2007)

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