THE EAR BASHAR; Syrian Leader Flies in to Warn Blair against War with Iraq

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Byline: JAMES HARDY Political Editor

TONY Blair will be warned by Syrian President Bashar Assad today that war on Iraq could trigger new terrorist attacks.

The hardline leader, who flew into Heathrow last night, is expected to outline the risks of conflict spilling over into neighbouring states.

In an interview at the weekend, he said: "The consequences are not going to be contained within Iraq. The entire region will enter into the unknown."

Assad, 36, publicly snubbed Mr Blair during a visit to Damascus last year.

In the interview he claimed war against Saddam Hussein was inevitable because the US Government was not ready to give United Nations weapons inspectors a chance to finish their work in Iraq.

The President said of the US: "Despite the UN resolutions and the fact that the inspectors are there, they are all the time announcing that they want to launch a strike against Iraq."

Assad will have talks with the Prime Minister today on the first official visit to Britain by a Syrian leader.

He will tell Mr Blair a solution to the Middle East crisis is far more pressing than invading Iraq.

He is expected to press the PM to fully engage President Bush in getting Israelis and Palestinians back into talks.

The Syrian President has defiantly refused to stop supporting militant groups, such as Islamic Jihad and Hamas, which send out suicide bombers.

Syrian diplomatic sources signalled no softening in that stance during their leader's visit. A source said: "I will tell you why Syria is looked at as intransigent, as a hard-line country - it is because it tries to do things properly."

British diplomats hope that engagement with the Damascus regime will encourage modernisation within Syria and maintain a dialogue on the Middle East.

A Foreign Office source said: "We do not pretend to agree on every issue, but there is much we can, and do, achieve together.

"A candid dialogue is better than no dialogue at all."

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Menzies Campbell urged Mr Blair to listen carefully to what President Assad had to say on Iraq. …