(photo credit: AP)
As the US debates whether to reach out to Syria for help in calming Iraq, some close to the Syrian regime said Sunday the country would be willing to help, but only if it got something valuable in return.
Damascus certainly has been interested in political dialogue with the West and wants talks with Washington, many have said. But the regime of President Bashar Assad wants, in return, help on certain issues - such as a return of the Golan Heights, which Israel captured in the 1967 war.
The regime itself has stayed tightlipped, refusing to say what it envisions but expressing willingness to help with Iraq and broader peace deals.
Earlier Sunday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad proposed that he would help the United States calm Iraq if Washington changes what he described as its "bullying" policy toward Iran.
"We are ready to help you, Ahmadinejad declared while addressing a group of members of the Basij paramilitary group, affiliated to the elite Revolutionary Guard.
But Iran's firebrand president took the US to task, questioning its motives for invading Iraq.
"You went to Iraq to topple Saddam and find weapons of mass destruction, but it was clear to us that you came in order to dominate the region and its oil."
Ahmadinejad said that the US and Britain are paying for the instability and violence in Iraq. "You have been trapped in a quagmire and locked in your place with nowhere to go."
"The Iranian nation is ready to help you to get out of the quagmire - on condition that you resume behaving in a just manner and avoid bullying and invading," he added.
"Then, nations of the region, headed by the Iranian nation, will be ready to show you the path of salvation," Ahmadinejad said. "It is the time for the leaders of the US and U.K to listen. You have reached a dead end in our region as well as in the world."
President George Bush is scheduled to meet Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki when he visits Jordan Wednesday and Thursday. His trip follows Vice President Dick Cheney's brief stop Saturday in Saudi Arabia, another of Iraq's neighbors, to confer with its leader on regional issues.
The unusual succession of trips appears to reflect US determination to rally allies at a time when Washington is considering overhauling its Iraq policy.
Since the Democratic victory in US midterm elections, the Bush administration has been under increased pressure at home to approach Iran and Syria for help in Iraq. Such a measure is believed to be one of the recommendations by a panel on Iraq led by former Secretary of State James A. Baker.
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani was scheduled to visit Teheran on Saturday. But on Friday, he had to postpone his trip until Baghdad's airport - closed in a security clampdown after the violence - reopens.
Iran is believed to back Iraqi Shi'ite militias blamed in sectarian killings that have killed thousands this year. Iran has repeatedly denied the charges.
In a related development, Iran on Sunday denied reports that it was trying to organize a summit bringing together Ahmadinejad and the leaders of Iraq and Syria.
"Holding such a summit was not on the agenda, as some media mentioned." Mohammed Ali Hosseini, the Foreign Ministry spokesman told journalists in response to reports saying that Iran had planned to hold a summit Saturday with its two neighbors.
"Such a summit needs certain preliminaries," he added, but did not give details.