- The Washington Times - Friday, January 17, 2003

DAMASCUS, Syria, Jan. 17 (UPI) — An Iraqi envoy met Friday Syrian President Bashar Assad and handed him a letter from Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, according to the official Syrian News Agency.

The agency said Assad received Saddam's letter from his personal envoy Ali Hassan al-Majeed, who is a member of the Iraqi Revolutionary Command Council.

It gave no additional information about the content of the letter and the talks with al-Majeed, who is scheduled to visit other Arab countries for the same purpose.

His visit came shortly after reports from Damascus indicated that Syria was to be the site of meeting that would gather the foreign ministers of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey, Iran and Syria to discuss a peaceful solution to the Iraqi crisis based on U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441.

Iraq was betting on Syria's help to avoid a U.S. military strike while Syria was exerting public efforts to spare Baghdad such a war.

Syrian official sources said such efforts were being conducted by President Assad and his Foreign Minister Farouk Sharaa who has been consulting with his Egyptian, Saudi, Jordanian, Kuwaiti, Turkish and Canadian counterparts.

According to analysts, several countries in the region were being prepared to the post-Saddam phase depending on the changes the U.S.-led war would impose.

The analysts referred to "large consultations in the region and the different interests of each country concerning the fate of the Iraqi regime."

On Thursday, Syrian Vice President Abdel Halim Khaddam reiterated that his country opposes "any regime change from abroad," saying this was an Iraqi internal matter.

Khaddam, who was visiting Moscow, denied "any ideological link between Syria and Iraq which are both ruled by historically struggling wings of the Baath Party."

He, however, assured that what links both countries was their "belonging to one nation."

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