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(photo credit: AP [file])
Syrian President Bashar Assad predicted Monday that the US vision for a "new Middle East" would fail as the region's conflicts continue to escalate.
His comments come days ahead of a conference on reducing violence in Iraq that will bring together Iraq's neighbors - including Syria and Iran - and representatives of the big five UN Security Council members, including the US.
"Results until now do not seem in favor of this project, and what we are seeing now in the east is a resisting Iraq, and in the west a resisting Lebanon, and in the south a resisting Palestinian people," Syria's official news agency SANA quoted Assad as saying. "And we in Syria are in the heart of all these events."
Assad, who spoke at a mass rally in the northeastern Syrian town of Deir El-Zour, said his country and the Middle East were passing through "a critical stage." He also stressed that "those who tried to isolate Syria have failed" - an apparent reference to the tense Damascus-Washington relations.
Syria has been under intense international pressure to change its policies on neighboring Iraq and Lebanon, particularly since the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri for which many blame Damascus. Syria denies it had anything to do with the killing, but US and European officials have shunned the Damascus regime.
The US also accuses Syria's leaders of allowing terrorists to use their country as a staging area for sending fighters, weapons and other material into Iraq - allegations Damascus denies.
But Syria's isolation has weakened in recent months, with some European officials and a number of American lawmakers - including US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi - visiting Damascus.
US and Syrian representatives also met during a March meeting in Baghdad on Iraq's security. The two sides could meet again in Egypt's Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh during the upcoming two-day Iraq conference, which begins Thursday. The Bush administration has said it would not rule out sideline talks Syria, though it is not inviting a broad conversation.