May 7, 2009 / 1:06 PM / 10 years ago

Washington committed to seeking Syria-Israel deal

DAMASCUS (Reuters) - The United States told the Syrian government on Thursday it was committed to seeking a peace deal between Syria and Israel, a main objective for Damascus in its rapprochement with Washington.

Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem (R) meets Jeffrey Feltman, U.S. acting assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, in Damascus May 7, 2009. REUTERS/Khaled al-Hariri

“We conveyed ... President Obama’s sincere commitment to pursue Arab-Israeli peace on all tracks, including on the Syrian-Israeli track,” senior State Department official Jeffrey Feltman said after meeting Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem in the Syrian capital.

The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama started talks with Syria soon after he was inaugurated in January, ending a boycott of several years under his predecessor George W. Bush. Feltman said the two countries still had differences to settle.

Damascus wants the United States to become involved if talks resume, believing this would guarantee any deal would stick.

Indirect talks mediated by Turkey were suspended after Israel’s three-week offensive in the Gaza Strip, which ended in mid-January.

“We look forward to continuing the dialogue here and in Washington as we seek to use this bilateral relationship to address differences and promote mutual interests,” he added.

Feltman is accompanied by White House official Daniel Shapiro. The two officials were in Damascus in March.

IMPROVEMENT

“We noted in our discussions improvements in our ability to work bilaterally with the Syrians since our last visit here,” Feltman said.

Diplomats in the Syrian capital said Syrian diplomatic moves in the last few months towards Iraq, including sending high-level delegations to Baghdad, contributed to breaking the ice between Damascus and Washington.

They said further improvements in ties, such as returning a U.S. ambassador to Damascus, could come after the Lebanese parliamentary elections in June, especially if the poll and its aftermath go smoothly.

The Lebanese Shi’ite movement Hezbollah, the main opposition group contesting the election, is backed by Syria and its ally Iran. Washington regards the alliance between the two countries as undermining its interests in the region.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said after hosting his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad this week that the ties between the two countries were a force for regional stability.

Tehran and Damascus also support the Palestinian group Hamas. Washington wants to see Syria pressure Hamas to renounce armed struggle and recognise Israel.

Editing by Samia Nakhoul

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