Kerry: US-Israel ties 'indisputable'

US senator meets with PM, Livni; calls meeting with Assad very constructive.

john kerry 88 (photo credit: )
john kerry 88
(photo credit: )
US Senator John Kerry said on Thursday that leaders of Arab states had gone though a fundamental change. Before meeting Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in Jerusalem, Kerry, who also met on Thursday with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, told reporters that the relationship between the United States and Israel was "indisputable." "There is a special friendship, and there are unbelievably strong cultural, historical, personal and strategic reasons for that," added the US senator. Kerry, who lost out to President George W. Bush in the 2004 US presidential elections, said that his meeting the previous day with Syrian President Bashar Assad was positive, very constructive and was conducted in a very relaxed atmosphere. Army Radio reported that during his meeting with Livni, Kerry refused to say if Assad had requested that the senator deliver a message to Israel. During the meeting with Olmert, Kerry and Senator Christopher Dodd updated the prime minister on their visits to Iraq, Lebanon and Syria as part of the tour the two have recently been conducting in the region. The senators met with Assad on Wednesday to discuss how Damascus could help bring about stability and security to war-ravaged Iraq. Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, has sharply criticized Bush's rejection of recommendations that Washington engage Syria and its ally Iran on calming Iraq, saying that the United States must deal with its enemies in the region if it wants to bring progress. The White House has accused Kerry, Dodd and other senators who have met with Assad of sending mixed signals and has insisted that the US will not make concessions to Damascus to win its help in Iraq. Kerry and Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat, declined to speak to reporters after their talks with Assad and a separate meeting with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem. The US Embassy in Damascus said the meeting with Assad, which lasted two and a half hours, covered "a full-range of topics relating to US-Syrian relations and regional issues." The two US lawmakers later went on a sightseeing tour in the Old Damascus Town in central Damascus. They arrived in Damascus Tuesday as part of a Middle East tour to probe Syria's readiness to help bring about stability and security to neighboring Iraq Kerry, who ran against Bush in 2004 elections, arrived here after visits to Egypt, Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon. Dodd, a Connecticut senator who is considering a run for US president in 2008, also was in Iraq - his third trip there since the war began. Their visit came a few days after a similar one by Senator Bill Nelson, who also met with Assad. The diplomatic push from Congress comes on the heels of a recommendation by a bipartisan panel that the US engage Iran and Syria on the war in Iraq. Bush has expressed reluctance to seek help from Damascus on Iraq until the Syrians curb their support to radical Palestinian groups and to the Lebanese Hizbullah and reduce their influence in Lebanon. Syria has influence with Iraqi Sunnis, and some leaders of the Sunni-led insurgency are believed to be living there. Kerry has criticized the Bush administration for refusing to engage with Syria and Iran, as was recommended by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group. Syrian-US relations have been strained for several years. Washington accuses Syria of aiding terrorism because of its support for radical Palestinian groups based in Damascus and the Hezbollah party. It also accuses Syria of aiding the Iraqi insurgency by allowing militants to cross into Iraq. Syria denies promoting the insurgency, saying it cannot have absolute control over its long and porous desert border with Iraq. It regards the radical Palestinian groups as legitimate opponents of Israeli occupation. The United States withdrew its ambassador to Damascus last year after the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, which many Lebanese blamed on Syria. Damascus denies any role in the killing. Staff contributed to this report.