US says talks with Syria ‘constructive’

March 8th, 2009 - 1:59 am ICT by IANS  

Damascus/Washington, March 8 (DPA) Senior US officials met with Syrian counterparts in Damascus Saturday for the highest level talks between the two countries in years, as part of US President Barack Obama’s initiative to expand dialogue in the Middle East.
Acting US Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman and White House aide Daniel Shapiro met with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem and other Syrian officials for discussions on bilateral and regional issues.

Feltman, in a conference call with reporters after the meeting, said the talks were “constructive and comprehensive.”

“It’s our view that Syria can play an important, constructive role in the region,” Feltman said.

The US withdrew its ambassador to Syria in 2005, following the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. Washington blamed Syria for the killing. Damascus denied any role.

Obama has pledged to engage countries that have been at odds with Washington as part of his plans to bolster US diplomacy. Feltman would not discuss details of the more than three hours of meetings, but said there was a desire to work through differences between the two countries.

“We want to achieve results,” he said. “I am sure the Syrians want to achieve results.”

Syria remains on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism for its alleged ties to Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

The US and Syria have “overlapping interests” in the Middle East and the talks in Damascus were designed to “start bridging differences” Feltman said.

The visit to Damascus came days after US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was in the Middle East to explore ways to revitalize the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, a top priority of the new Obama administration.

The US has long been wary of Syrian influence in Lebanon. US-and French-led international pressure after Hariri’s assassination forced the Syrians to end their occupation of Lebanon. Feltman said the talks with Syria should not be seen as a

weakening of the US commitment to a sovereign Lebanon free from outside influences.

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