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Syria told a visiting US State Department official Monday that it is willing to engage in a "serious" dialogue with Washington on all Middle East issues.
Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal Mekdad told reporters following a one-hour meeting with Ellen Sauerbrey, the US assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration, that there will be no permanent solution for any of the region's troubles without dialogue and cooperation.
"All the issues in the Arab world are related to each other and it is necessary to have comprehensive dialogue on all these issues," Mekdad said. Sauerbrey refused to make any comments to reporters following the meeting.
She arrived in the Syrian capital Sunday night as part of a regional tour to discuss the Iraqi refugees crisis and is the most senior American official to visit Syria in the last two years. But State Department spokesman Sean McCormack has stressed that her trip was not a "bilateral mission" and she was accompanying the UN High Commissioner for Refugees on a humanitarian mission.
Mekdad said that he discussed with Sauerbrey the situation of the Iraqi refugees in Syria, with unofficial statistics estimating that some 1.5 million Iraqis have sought sanctuary in Syria. The Damascus office of the UNHCR says about 40,000 Iraqis arrive each month. He said there will be more meetings in the future to further discuss the problem.
The US Embassy in Damascus said Saturday in a written statement that Sauerbrey's five-day three-nation tour, which also includes Egypt and Jordan, comes on behalf of her Task Force on Displaced Iraqis and Iraqi refugees.
Sauerbrey's visit comes days after an international conference was held in Baghdad over the weekend that brought together Syrian, Iranian and US officials to discuss security in Iraq.
Syria has frequently called for dialogue with the US but President George W. Bush had previously rejected any direct talks with officials from Syria and Iran, accusing both of them of facilitating the infiltration of fighters into Iraq to fight US-led coalition troops. Both countries have repeatedly denied the charges.
Sauerbrey's visit is the most senior by an American official since the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, when the United States withdrew its ambassador to Damascus in protest. Many Lebanese blame the killing on Syria, but Damascus denies any role in the assassination.