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Syria's Assad warns over Iraq war

Assad and his British-born wife Asma al-Akhras arrive in London
Assad and his British-born wife Asma al-Akhras arrive in London

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LONDON, England -- Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has warned that anyone seeking war with Iraq for the sake of war with Iraq is "psychologically ill," following talks with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Assad, speaking during a landmark first official visit to Britain by a Syrian leader, said Baghdad was cooperating with U.N. weapons inspectors hunting its alleged weapons of mass destruction.

"No one is seeking war... Anybody who looks for war as a goal in itself is psychologically ill," Assad said. "But I am optimistic now. What we have seen is good cooperation from the Iraqi government and we hope this cooperation will continue until this crisis is solved peacefully."

Blair, the staunchest ally of the U.S. in its attempts to disarm Iraq, made clear that differences with Syria remained after his talks with Assad, and that he believed "action should follow" if Baghdad were shown to be in breach of U.N. demands.

He said Britain was still looking at Iraq's mammoth arms declaration handed over to the United Nations earlier this month and had yet to reach a judgment, Reuters reported.

Britain has already voiced scepticism over Iraq's weapons declaration delivered last week to the United Nations.

Washington, which has pledged to disarm Iraq by force if it failed to cooperate with the United Nations, said on Monday Iraqi President Saddam Hussein would get no second chance to fill in any omissions in his declaration of arms capabilities.

Meanwhile, a few miles away from Downing Street, hundreds of Saddam's opponents were unveiling a political blueprint for a federal and tolerant government to be implemented if he were toppled. (Full story)

On the Mideast, the Syrian leader strongly hinted that countries should keep to the U.N. resolutions on Israel and the Palestinians as well as to those on Iraq.

Assad brushed aside earlier calls from Britain to rein in Palestinian terrorist organisations operating in his country, insisting only "press officers" existed.

He added: "Of course we don't have, in Syria, organisations supporting terrorism. We have press officers... (who) express the opinions of Palestinians inside Palestine and outside Palestine.

"Palestinians have a right to have someone to express their opinion."

Following the talks with Assad, Blair later told the UK parliament that he was inviting Palestinian leaders to London in the New Year to discuss how to revive the Middle East peace process.

The discussions are to include how the international community can help the Palestinians and Israelis move towards a two-state nation, Blair said.

Blair, Assad
Blair and Assad were at odds during talks in Damascus last year

Middle East mediators, and representatives from the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia have also been invited to take part in the Palestinian talks.

Israeli leaders will not be attending. Officials said they will be focussing on general elections to be held on January 28.

Assad is in London for a four-day visit, accompanied by his British-born wife Asma al-Akhras.

He is expected to follow his talks with Blair with a meeting with Queen Elizabeth II.

Assad, who studied ophthalmology in London between 1992 and 1994, will also meet Prince Charles and the UK Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon.

Blair received an embarrassing dressing down over Palestinian terrorism from the Syrian leader when he made a ground-breaking visit to Damascus last year.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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