The Middle East has grown less stable during the presidency of US President George W. Bush, but dramatic improvements could be made by opening broad talks with Syria, former US Secretary of State James A. Baker III said here Sunday. Once-pragmatic US relations with Syria have "gone downhill" in recent years, said Baker, who is in Dubai to oversee the expansion of the Baker Botts LLP law offices. Baker is a senior partner at the Houston, Texas-based law firm. But he said the outlines of a peace deal between Washington's biggest Mideast ally, Israel, and Syria were clear and encouraged both sides to seize the opportunity. "There's the deal. It's all spelled out," Baker said. "This is all by way of saying we need to engage Syria."