Syrian president meets Archbishop of Canterbury

Damascus, Syria - Britain's Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, spiritual leader of the Anglican Church, held talks on Thursday with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on the Middle East, Islam and terrorism, the official SANA news agency said.

Williams discussed with Assad "the situation in the Middle East and the role of Syria in the peace process" during a visit to Damascus, the agency said.

Assad stressed to the archbishop the "need to clarify the values of Islam across the world, to draw the distinction between Islam and terrorism, and to organise a dialogue among the different civilisations."

The Anglican leader praised "the coexistence which reigns between Muslims and Christians in Syria... which has welcomed Iraqi refugees of all faiths."

Since the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, more than 2.3 million Iraqis have become refugees, with Syria welcoming some 1.5 million.

Damascus, which has received little international help to cope with the human flood, has however now been forced to introduce visas to try to curb the flow.

Later on Thursday, the archbishop was to join Christian and Muslim leaders for iftar, the meal that breaks the daily fast during Ramadan, at the invitation of the Mohammad Kaftaro Centre, which runs courses on Islamic law in Damascus.

Williams, who was born in Wales in 1950, was enthroned Archbishop of Canterbury in February 2003.