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(photo credit: AP)
A conference for Iraq's neighbors planned for later this month in Baghdad could open the way for future talks between Syria and the United States, a Syrian state newspaper said Sunday.
"How could attendees of a conference who are sitting at the same table ignore each other even though they have agreed to sit together on this table to discuss a certain matter?" asked the Al-Baath daily of President Bashar Assad's ruling Baath party in an editorial.
The conference in Baghdad, tentatively set for March 10, is expected to bring together all of Iraq's neighbors, including Iran and Syria, as well as the United States and Britain to find ways to ease Iraq's security crisis.
The United States has said that its participation in the gathering does not mean it is changing its policy toward Iran and Syria.
Last week, a Syrian Foreign Ministry official said his country believes US participation in the conference was "a partial step ... in the right direction for comprehensive dialogue with Syria on all issues of the Middle East."
Al-Baath said that US officials, by deciding to participate in the conference, "have agreed one way or another that there are powers and countries in the region whom (the United States) cannot ignore."
"The entire region sees in the conference a glimpse of hope and optimism to start a series of solutions," the newspaper said. "What has made us upbeat about the convening of the conference is the recognition of the others' role. This could lay foundations for a future consultation that could break the state of hatred and congestion."
In December, the Bipartisan Iraq Study Group recommended US dialogue with Iran and Syria, but until now the administration has resisted that course.
Syrian-US relations have been strained for several years. Washington accuses Syria of aiding the Iraqi insurgency by allowing militants to cross into Iraq, a claim Syria denies saying it is impossible to control the long desert border.