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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad begins a working visit to France

President Bashar al-Assad and Mrs. Asma al-Assad began on Wednesday evening a working visit to the Republic of France, during which President al-Assad will hold talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy on bilateral relations between the two friendly countries and the latest regional and international developments.

The upcoming summit between Presidents al-Assad and Sarkozy is their fifth, as the two Presidents discussed in November 2009 means for bolstering bilateral relations in addition to regional and international issues.

The summit follows the visits of President Sarkozy to Damascus in September 2008 and January 2009 and President al-Assad's visit to Paris in July 2008.

In September 2010, President al-Assad received a letter from President Sarkozy on developing bilateral relations and the importance of continuing coordination and consultation between Syria and France. The letter was conveyed by Jean Claude Cousseran, the French Presidential Envoy for the Peace Process in the Middle East.

In May 2010, President al-Assad met Claude Gueant, the General Secretary of the French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and discussed with him the Syrian-French relations, the regional situation and peace process.

President al-Assad also received during the same month a letter from the French President on bilateral relations conveyed by Gueant.

During the visit of French Prime Minister Francois Fillon to Damascus in February 2010, Syria and France signed 11 agreements, documents and memos of understanding in various fields, where Fillon expressed, during his meeting with President al-Assad, his country's desire to boost bilateral relations between Syria and France and Syria's relation with the EU.

During that meeting, Fillon lauded Syria's pivotal role in the region, underlining the necessity of coordinating between the two countries which would help find solutions to the region's problems.

During the visit of French Minister of Economic Affairs, Industry and Employment Christine Lagarde to Syria, the two sides signed agreements in the field of transport, specifications and measurements, and electricity, in addition to signing the work plan of the Syrian-French Businessmen Council for 2010.

The Council was launched in May 2009 in Paris with the aim of bolstering economic relations and increasing trade exchange between the two countries, in addition to developing French investments in Syria in various fields.

In September 2010, Syrian Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Abdullah al-Dardari discussed in Paris with Minister Lagarde and representatives of the French Development Agency (AFD) several issues related to Syrian-French cooperation in energy, agriculture, transport and tourism sectors.

French Ambassador to Syria Eric Chevallier affirmed that the importance of President al-Assad's visit to France lies in the continuation of dialogue and consultation between Presidents al-Assad and Sarkozy, noting that this constructive dialogue began in 2008 and that it continues on regular basis, adding that this dialogue resulted in holding five meetings between the two Presidents during two years.

In a statement to SANA, Chevallier said that the situation on the regional and international arenas is constantly on the move, and that there are important issues for the two Presidents to discuss including the efforts being exerted to push the peace process forward on all tracks including the Syrian track, the issue of stability in the region, and the issue of Lebanon.

The French Ambassador pointed out that Syria is an important country in the Middle East and that France plays a role in the international arena whether through Europe, through the United States, or through its international position.

He underlined the dynamic nature and development of economic, cultural and scientific cooperation between the two countries' universities, asserting that holding periodical meetings will be beneficial on those levels.

Chevallier said that regular and easy dialogue between the two countries is very important although they do not agree totally on every issue, affirming that the principle of dialogue relies on respect between the two sides in order for each side to express the points of agreement and disagreement, which is natural.

In terms of economy, the Ambassador said that there is positive, true and dynamic development between the two countries in this field, and that the number of French companies is increasing gradually in Syria, with these companies working with Syrian economic partners.

Chevallier pointed out that two factories for French companies have been opened in Syria, including the Lafarge investment project with a cost of EUR 450 million and the Air Liquide factory which is located in the Damascus industrial zone, in addition to projects by Total and Bell.

He said that France aspires to be the direct and primary investor in Syria and that it is ready to take part in major investments in Syria through leading French companies which are ready to participate in projects in the public sector or the joint sector.

The French Ambassador underlined the importance of the cultural activities of Mrs. Asma al-Assad during the visit in enhancing cultural relations between the establishments of the two countries, particularly on the level of heritage and museums.

He noted that Syria enjoys a rich cultural heritage and that French cultural institutions are cooperating with their Syrian counterparts in the field of archeology, museums and heritage, adding that these institutions are committed to supporting dialogue among the cultural components in the two countries.

The French Ambassador in Damascus also stressed the importance of cooperation in the fields of universities between the two countries, pointing out that Syrian students constitute the biggest number of students received by France in comparison to the number of students it receives from other Arab countries.

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