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Middle east

Envoys open new chapter in US-Syria relations

Latest update : 2009-03-07

The senior US officials held the first high-level talks in Syria for four years said discusssions had been "constructive", in another sign of a warming of relations between the two countries.

REUTERS - Two senior U.S. officials held high-level talks in Syria on Saturday in another sign of a warming of ties between the two countries.

 

Jeffrey Feltman, acting assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, and Dan Shapiro of the White House's National Security Council are the first senior U.S. officials to visit Syria since Jan. 2005.

 

"I would characterise the discussions as very constructive. We discussed a broad range of regional issues and the bilateral relationship," Feltman told reporters after meeting Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem.

 

Diplomats had expected the U.S. delegation to raise Syria's ties with Iran, as well as Syria's role in Lebanon, its influence over the Palestinian group Hamas and prospects for resuming peace talks between Syria and Israel.

 

"I don't think the United States will be presenting Damascus with a laundry list of demands as usual. This gets nowhere with the Syrians," one Western diplomat said.

 

Ties between Syria and the United States deteriorated during the George W. Bush administration after the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik al-Hariri, in February, 2005. Washington withdrew its ambassador to Syria and stepped up sanctions against Damascus.

U.S. President Barack Obama, however, has made moves to talk to Syria, but Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in Ankara on Saturday no decision yet has been made on returning an ambassador.

 

Clinton said in Ankara that the importance of the Syrian-Israeli peace track cannot be overstated. Syria has repeatedly called for a U.S. role in the suspended contacts.

 

Syria formally suspended the Turkish-mediated indirect talks last year during the Israeli invasion off Gaza, but Syrian officials have not ruled out their resumption, even if a right wing government is formed in Israel.

 

Feltman was ambassador to Lebanon at the time of Hariri's killing and assumed a a high-profile role in supporting anti-Syrian Lebanon politicians to the irritation of Damascus.

 

A United Nations investigation has implicated Syrian security officials in the Hariri killing. Damascus denies involvement.

An international tribunal to try suspects in the assassination started work on March 1, but it may take months to issue any indictments.

Date created : 2009-03-07

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