US officials meet Syrian FM in diplomatic talks

In a change of tone after years of animosity with Syria, US official said: "We found a lot of common ground."

US officials meet Syrian FM in diplomatic talks
The United States wants to see "forward momentum" on talks between Syria and Israel and believes Syria could help Middle East stability, a U.S. official said after high-level talks in Damascus on Saturday.

In a change of tone after years of animosity with Syria, Jeffrey Feltman, acting assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, said: "We found a lot of common ground."

Dan Shapiro of the White House's National Security Council also attended the meeting with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem. The two are the first senior U.S. officials to visit Syria since Jan. 2005.

"There were no subjects that were taboo...It is our view that Syria can play an important and constructive role in the region," Feltman said after the meeting.

Asked whether Washington would become involved in suspended peace talks between Syria and Israel, Feltman told reporters that "comprehensive peace" including a deal between the two sides was an objective of the new administration of U.S. President Barack Obama.

"We do want to see forward momentum on the Syrian-Israeli track at the time when the parties are ready for this," he said.

"We want to achieve results. I am sure that Syria will want to achieve results but let's not expect that things are going to change dramatically from today until tomorrow."

Feltman and Shapiro did not meet President Bashar al-Assad.

Feltman, who will travel next to Beirut, stressed U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 on ending the summer 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon as "an area where the two sides may work to overcome their differences."

"At Feltman level for now"

Ties between Syria and the United States deteriorated during the George W. Bush administration after the assassination of Rafik al-Hariri, the former prime minister of Lebanon, in February 2005.

Washington withdrew its ambassador to Syria and stepped up sanctions against Damascus.

Obama 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 that the importance of the Syrian-Israeli peace track "cannot be overstated".

Syria formally suspended the indirect Turkish-mediated talks during Israel's offensive against Gaza in December and January, but has not ruled out their resumption.

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

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

A U.S. official said Feltman would meet French officials in Paris before returning to Washington.

Asked if there might be higher-level U.S.-Syria meetings in the coming weeks, the U.S official said talks were "staying at (the) Feltman level for now".


Güncelleme Tarihi: 08 Mart 2009, 10:29