Britain sees 'constructive role' for Syria

Miliband criticizes Hamas rocket fire and implicitly urges Syria to exert its influence on the group to stop such attacks.

Miliband speaks to AP 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Miliband speaks to AP 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Britain's foreign secretary said Tuesday Syria could play "a constructive role" in the stalled Middle East peacemaking process, while condemning Hamas rocket attacks on Israel. David Miliband said the attacks harm Syria's position in the region and diminish chances of achieving a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East. Miliband spoke to reporters in Damascus after holding talks with Syrian President Bashar Assad and Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem. He is the first senior British official to visit Syria since former Prime Minister Tony Blair's visit in 2001. He said the Mideast peace process was at the heart of his discussions with Assad. "Syria is a very important country with important responsibilities," Miliband said, predicting that the next year would be key for the vision of a comprehensive peace. "Syria has the opportunity to play a constructive role for peace in the region," he said, "There have been many important constructive steps over the past 18 months, notably with Lebanon." Syria in October formalized its diplomatic ties with neighboring Lebanon after dominating it for nearly three decades until 2005. It also held indirect peace talks with Israel through Turkish mediation. Those decisions have apparently encouraged Western leaders to visit Syria after years of isolation. Assad told Miliband that Mideast peace needs "seriousness" on the Israeli side, an "honest sponsor and an effective European role," Syria's official news agency SANA reported. It said Assad also stressed that a comprehensive peace based on UN resolutions is the "only way to bring about security and stability in the region." Miliband criticized Hamas' rocket attacks on Israel and implicitly urged Syria to exert its influence on the group to stop such attacks. "I argue that Hamas' violence hurts Syria, which says it believes in a comprehensive peace," Miliband said. "The rockets are a threat to the successful process. As the same time, we don't support (Jewish) settlements." Miliband said he believes that the election of a new administration in the United States "does represent a new opportunity for engagement by the US in the Middle East region." Later, in a brief interview with The Associated Press, Miliband expressed his country's support for the indirect Syrian-Israeli peace talks. The British minister, who arrived here after visiting Israel, said he carried no messages from Israel to Syrian officials. "It is very important that we continue this dialogue," he said. "There are important choices to be made by Syria, by other countries, including the UK, about how we can work together." Al-Moallem, the Syrian foreign minister, said his country has worked for more than 18 months to "build a partnership relation between Syria and the UK" "The title of this partnership is a just and comprehensive peace as well as security and stability in the region," he said.