Egypt tries to avoid U.S.-Syria tension, says it fears quagmire

Egypt is trying to defuse tension between the United States and Syria, the Egyptian foreign minister said Tuesday, days before the appearance of a U.N. report that might turn the world spotlight on Syria. "There is an active and continuous Egyptian effort to defuse the tension in the Syrian-American situation and prevent its explosion" Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit told reporters.

"The last thing Egypt wants is to see another point of tension in the region," he added, hours before he was scheduled to fly to Moscow for talks with the Russian government, which has long been allied with Syria.

Aboul Gheit did not disclose details of the Egyptian initiative, but a top Egyptian diplomat said Cairo wants to avoid a situation like the U.S.-Iraq standoff, which culminated in the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

"We do not want another Iraq, and we do not want another quagmire," the diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to make statements.

By next Tuesday, the United Nations is due to release its report on the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. His killing by a massive truck bomb in February was widely blamed on Syria or pro-Syrian Lebanese, the AP informs.

The United States recalled its ambassador to Syria in protest over the murder. Syria has denied any role, but U.N. investigators have named as suspects four pro-Syrian Lebanese generals.

The United States is also at loggerheads with Syria over its alleged support for Iraqi insurgents, accusing it of failing to do enough to stop fighters from crossing into Iraq. Washington also accuses Syria of supporting Palestinian guerrillas.

"All these elements could lead to miscalculations or more confrontations in this region," Aboul Gheit said Tuesday.

Syria says it supports Palestinian activists, not armed militants. It denies supporting Iraqi insurgents, and says it has done all it can to stop infiltration across its long, porous border with Iraq.

The son of Rafik Hariri, Saad, who is now a leading anti-Syrian legislator in Lebanon, is due in Cairo on Wednesday for talks with Egyptian officials that are expected to include the U.N. investigation into his father's assassination.

Last month Saad Hariri met Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in New York. Asked afterward whether Russia might veto any U.N. Security Council action against Syria if the U.N. report implicates its government, Hariri replied: "I believe that as much as Syria is a friend of Russia, Lebanon is."


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