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Quartet to hold meeting with Arab Officials


Washington : The Quartet group will meet with Arab officials assigned to discuss the Arab peace initiative on the sidelines of the Iraq’s neighbours conference scheduled to be held in the Egyptian coastal city of Sharm El-Sheikh on Friday, a US official said.

Syria will be attending, paving the way for the highest-level meeting that will bring together Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Syrian officials on the same table.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormick confirmed during the daily briefing Tuesday that Syria will attend the Quartet meeting with the Arab ministers, but declined to confirm whether Damascus will be represented by the foreign minister or a lower-level official. “I am not sure if it will be the Syrian foreign minister or not, but a Syrian representative,” he said.

McCormick said the members of the Quartet — Russia, US, UN and the EU — will meet with the Arab delegation assigned by the Arab League to convey the Arab peace initiative, a peace package approved by the last Arab summit as an introduction for a comprehensive peaceful settlement in the Middle East.

The Arab delegation designated with the mission is represented by officials from Jordan and Egypt only. Damascus is not part of the delegation.

In addition to Syria, McCormick said the delegation will also include Saudi representative. “I believe the Saudis and the Syrians will be there as well,” he said.

This will be the highest-level contact between the United States and Syria since Washington withdrew its ambassador from Damascus in the wake of the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri in Beirut two years ago. Syria has been a prime suspect for the killing by Washington.

But McCormick said the meeting will “exclusively” focus on the Israeli-Palestinian peace track. “I would expect that it would be focused exclusively on the topic at hand. And let’s be clear, it is not about Lebanon, our position with respect to Lebanon and the non-negotiability of the fact of the tribunal, or the non-negotiability of the fact of Lebanese sovereignty and support for democracy are, I don’t think, in question,” he said.