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Russian Envoy Meets Syrian Leader

April 24, 1999

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) _ Russia’s foreign minister visited Syria on Saturday and insisted that relations between the two countries were warm despite a dispute over a stalled arms deal.

Syrian President Hafez Assad abruptly canceled a planned trip to Moscow earlier this month after the Russian government would not promise to finalize a deal to sell anti-tank missiles to Syria.

The United States had vehemently opposed the deal and threatened in February to cancel $50 million in aid to Russia if it was completed. Washington later imposed sanctions on three Russian companies involved in the sale.

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov’s visit was the first to Syria since Assad canceled the trip.

``Russia is ready to receive President Assad at any time ... There is no specific problem that could worsen our relations,″ Ivanov told reporters.

Ivanov gave Assad a letter from President Boris Yeltsin and the two discussed the Middle East peace process and the crisis in Kosovo, presidential spokesman Jubran Kourieh said, without elaborating.

Damascus and Moscow have been close allies since the Soviet era, when Syria was a major market for Russian-made arms.

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