US says Syria no partner for peace talks

State Dept.: Syrian involved with extremist groups and aids insurgents in Iraq.

Assad nice 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Assad nice 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Amid heightened discussion of Israel exploring the possibility of peace talks with Syria, the Bush administration has once again expressed reservations over such steps. "We're not going to dictate to the Israeli government what pathways they take in their foreign policy," US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Wednesday, ahead of an Israeli-US strategic dialogue meeting whose agenda would include Syria. "But of course, we're going to point out to them the fact that the Syrian government hasn't really demonstrated through its actions any sort of intent to actually play a constructive role in the region." He pointed to Syrian involvement with violent extremist groups and its extension of aid to anti-American forces in Iraq by allowing foreign fighters to cross its borders. McCormack noted that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice briefly met with her Syrian counterpart in Egypt recently to discuss the latter's activity. "We would welcome if the Syrian government would take the opportunity to actually demonstrate that it will follow up on its words when it says it wants to play a positive role in the region - haven't seen any evidence of that though," he said. Observers have noted that America's increasing willingness to engage with Syria makes it harder for the US to oppose Israeli talks with Syria. "Given that the US diplomatic boycott of Syria is easing slightly, one might expect that the strong... anti-negotiating position that the US has taken vis-a-vis Syria [and Israel] maybe would be easing up," said Scott Lasensky, a Middle East expert with the US Institute for Peace. There was speculation ahead of Thursday's strategic dialogue meeting that Israel would be looking for backing in a renewed peace bid with Syria. Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, who broached the topic before his departure for Washington, said Wednesday that Israel should always be willing to talk to enemy states. But, he said, there currently is "nothing new on the Syrian front," in a reference to renewed military activity by the Syrians. Damascus has increased its military presence along the border, according to Israeli officials, who have started their own exercises. When a reporter at the briefing with McCormack suggested that Israel was raising tensions by conducting military exercises, McCormack said, "I don't know if those are waters you want to travel into, talking about others raising the tension in the region when you're ignoring everything that the Syrian government is doing, whether that's in Lebanon or Iraq. So I'm not sure that's a characterization pathway that you want to go down."