(photo credit: Associated Press)
US special envoy George Mitchell will travel to Damascus on Thursday, not only to brief Syrian President Bashar Assad on progress in the diplomatic process with the Palestinian Authority, but also to work toward jump-starting a parallel diplomatic track with Syria.
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Mitchell told a press conference in Jerusalem on Wednesday evening that he had been appointed by US President Barack Obama as Middle East envoy with a mandate to reach comprehensive peace in the region.
Mitchell said that among the elements Obama mentioned were peace agreements between Israel and Syria, and Israel and Lebanon, along with ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and “a full normalization of relations between Israel and its neighbors in the region.”
Mitchell said that part of his overall objective has been to encourage discussions between Israel and Syria, just as he has done between Israel and the Palestinians. Mitchell said that both he and his deputy with responsibility for Syria and Lebanon, Fred Hoff, have been in Damascus and Jerusalem discussing the subject.
Mitchell confirmed reports that Hoff was in Syria recently and reported back to him, Obama and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the results of those discussions.
Hoff will accompany Mitchell to Damascus on Thursday, and the two men will continue on to Beirut for talks with the top Lebanese leadership.
Mitchell said the US did not believe that working on Israeli- Syrian and
Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy at the same time was mutually exclusive;
Washington felt these “two tracks can be complementary and mutually
beneficial if we can proceed to a comprehensive peace on more than one
Mitchell’s visit to Damascus will come three days after Jean- Claude
Cousseran, French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s special Mideast envoy, met
in Damascus with Assad following meetings he reportedly had in
Jerusalem with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s national security
adviser, Uzi Arad.