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Mitterrand’s Visit to Syria Appears to Have Been Exercise in Appeasement

President Francois Mitterrand’s two-day State visit to Syria appears to have been an exercise in appeasement that failed to resolve the sharp policy differences between France and Syria or to budge President Hafez Assad from his hardline position in the Middle East conflict.

Mitterrand, who returned to Paris today, “went out of his way”, according to many observers, to avoid anything that could be considered “a provocation” to the Syrians. French officials said he believed this was the best way to induce Assad to join the peace process and to improve relations between the two countries.

At a press conference in Damascus before his departure, Mitterrand hailed Assad as “a key personality” in the Middle East and exonerated Syria from any role in a series of terrorist attacks that have taken many French lives in recent months. Assad denied any involvement in the attacks and “I see no reason why I should doubt his words,” Mitterrand said.

But Syria stands accused by several French ministers and senior officials and by virtually the entire. media of having planned and probably carried out the assassination of the French Ambassador in Beirut in 1981; of masterminding the suicide attack on French headquarters in Beirut in October, 1982 in which 58 French paratroopers were killed; and having carried out the attack on an anti-Syrian Arab newspaper in Paris which led to the expulsion of two Syrian diplomats from France.

VISITED THE ‘JEWISH HALL’ IN DAMASCUS MUSEUM

It is not yet known whether Mitterrand met with members of the Syrian Jewish community while in Damascus or whether he raised with Assad the issue of Syrian Jews. Last week, before his departure for Syria, the French President promised Theo Klein, president of the Representative Council of Major French Jewish Organizations (CRIF), that he would do so if the opportunity arose.

Before leaving Damascus, Mitterrand did visit the “Jewish Hall” in the Syrian National Museum and an old synagogue which was reconstructed as an architectural treasure.

Mitterrand will fully brief Israeli Premier Shimon Peres on his talks in Damascus when Peres visits Paris next week and officials here said he would relate to the Israeli leader several points not made public.

But reports from Damascus during Mitterrand’s stay gave no indication that Assad has yielded on any points. The Syrian President made clear from the start that Syria will accept no peace agreement with Israel without a prior promise by Israel to “return all Arab lands.”

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