'Syria welcomes US push for peace talks with Israel'

Syrian officials praise American efforts to renew diplomatic track with Israel but question if it is "willing and able to make peace."

September 19, 2010 08:47
2 minute read.
Syrian President Assad with US envoy Mitchell

Mitchell and Assad. (photo credit: Associated Press)


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Syria welcomed Washington's latest efforts to facilitate renewed peace talks between Israel and Damascus, London-based Arabic language daily Asharq al-Awsat reported on Sunday.

Syrian sources considered the US push for peace a "declaration of good intentions" by the Americans, but questioned if in Israel there was a partner "willing and able to make peace."

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Barak sends conciliatory signal as Mitchell meets Assad

The comments came after US envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell met with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus on Thursday to explore the possibility of restarting an Israeli-Syrian diplomatic track.

Following Mitchell's visit to Damascus, however, Assad was visited by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The back-to-back trips underscored the battle for influence in Syria between Washington and Teheran. Seeking to isolate Iran, US President Barack Obama has tried – unsuccessfully – to pry Syria away from its alliance with the Islamic Republic.

Speaking in Damascus, Ahmadinejad appeared to brush aside US efforts to forge a peace deal between Israel and its neighbors.

He warned that countries in the region would “disrupt” American and Israeli plans to introduce change to the Middle East, but did not elaborate.

“Those who want to change the political geography of the region must know that they will have no place in the future of the region,” Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying by Iran’s state-run news agency, IRNA. “The waves of free nations to join this resistance are spreading every day.”

Ahmadinejad said before his visit to Syria that he and Assad would discuss key areas of conflict and tension in the Middle East, including Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. He also told Iranian state TV on Friday that he and Assad would discuss “the Westerners’ moves in the region,” an apparent reference to the United States.

“We have to be ready and in harmony,” he said in an interview, without elaborating.

The US began reaching out to Syria soon after Obama took office in January 2009, and has made repeated overtures to Damascus this year, including nominating the first US ambassador to Syria since 2005 and sending top diplomats to meet with Assad.

Mitchell said during his visit to Damascus on Thursday that the US was determined to reach a comprehensive peace in the Middle East, and that the administration’s efforts to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict did not conflict with making peace between Israel and Syria.

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