'No new overture to Syria in the works'

State Dept. official denies that US calling shots on J'lem-Damascus relations.

By HILARY LEILA KRIEGER JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDENT
March 7, 2007 01:42
1 minute read.
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The United States' recent moves toward Syria don't represent a new US diplomatic opening with the country, a senior State Department official stressed in a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post. "This is not the beginning of a discussion with the Syrians of the range of regional topics," the official said, referring to a visit of Assistant Secretary Ellen Sauerbrey to Syria planned for the coming weeks. The move represents an unusually high-level contact for the administration, but it will focus solely on the issue of Iraqi refugees streaming across the border, according to the official. The US will also be participating in a regional conference on Iraq in the next week in which the Syrians are expected to participate. Asked whether the US gestures could signal that an opportunity exists for a thaw in the Israel-Syria relationship, the official denied that the US was calling the shots when it came to Israel's relationship with Syria. "There's a myth that exists, especially in Israel, that the United States is blocking the path to Syria-Israel discussions," he said. "That's a myth." He also rejected talk that the unified Quartet position on freezing funding to the Palestinian Authority unless controlling party Hamas recognizes Israel, renounces violence and accepts existing agreements was fraying as a result of the PA unity government between Hamas and Fatah. Though Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently welcomed a Hamas delegation to Russia and urged lifting the economic sanctions, the State Department officials said, "We have no reason to believe that Russia has abandoned the Quartet approach." He assessed that the American policy of shutting off aid to Hamas had achieved "some success" by the failure of Hamas's ability to govern. "It has clearly failed in that effort in that it has now felt compelled to enter into negotiations with its political opponents and form a new government," he said. He added that the aid blockade has "forced it [Hamas] to move some."

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