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Mandela Arrives in Syria

October 18, 1999

DAMASCUS, Syria, (AP) _ Former South African President Nelson Mandela and Syria’s president exchanged compliments Sunday before meeting privately in Syria’s capital, a presidential spokesman said.

Syrian President Hafez Assad praised Mandela as a freedom fighter respected around the world, while Mandela called Assad an ``establishment.″

``I am happy to be with a renowned and a well-known president,″ Mandela said of Assad after receiving a red-carpet welcome at the airport.

The two later met again for formal talks, Assad’s spokesman, Jubran Kourieh, said. He did not give details.

Mandela, who is touring the Middle East and meeting with top politicians, was in Iran earlier Sunday. He planned to go to Jordan, the Palestinian territories and Israel on Monday.

Mandela’s visit to Israel was seen as a sign of reconciliation between the Jewish state and South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement, which Mandela once led from a prison cell.

A sought-after mediator of international problems, Mandela was expected to encourage the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the Sunday Independent reported in Johannesburg.

Mandela and other anti-apartheid leaders have said they shared the Palestinians’ longing for self-determination, and noted that Israel helped supply military training, assault rifles and patrol boats to the apartheid regime.

In Tehran, Iran’s capital, Mandela laid a wreath on the tomb of the late Ayatollah Khomeini, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency, monitored in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Mandela praised Iran’s severing of relations with South Africa’s former apartheid government, and said ``we are indebted to the Islamic revolution,″ the news agency reported.

Mandela also met with President Mohammad Khatami and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s powerful spiritual leader.

Mandela recently brokered the end to U.N. sanctions against Libya, which were imposed because of suspected Libyan involvement in a 1988 bombing of a Pan Am jetliner that killed 270 people.

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