First Published: 2009-02-18

Assad in talks with US delegation on boosting ties

Second US congressional delegation visits Syria in less than month amid signs of improving relations.


Middle East Online

Senator Cardin with President Assad

DAMASCUS - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad discussed ways of boosting ties with the United States during a meeting with visiting US Congressmen on Wednesday, the state-run SANA news agency said.

The talks with the delegation led by Senator Benjamin Cardin "focused on ties between Syria and the United States and the importance of developing them through a serious and positive dialogue based on mutual respect," it said.

The US senators also underscored the "importance of pursuing the dialogue" between the two nations, whose relations soured under former US president George W. Bush.

"The discussions also focused on developments in the region and what could be done to bolster efforts to achieve peace in the Middle East, in addition to fighting terrorism," SANA said.

It quoted Assad as saying that "achieving peace is the key to achieving stability in the region."

The Damascus talks came as a British newspaper quoted Assad as welcoming US President Barack Obama's moves towards dialogue and said he would like to see full diplomatic ties resumed.

"We have the impression that this administration will be different and we have seen the signals. But we have to wait for the reality and the results," Assad told the Guardian newspaper.

The Cardin-led delegation is the second congressional team to visit Syria in less than a month and John Kerry, foreign relations committee chairman, is expected to make the country one of his stops on a current Middle East tour.

Assad described the visits as "important" and a "good gesture," but said he hoped Washington would send an ambassador to cement these ties.

The United States pulled it ambassador from Syria after the February 2005 assassination in Beirut of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri in a car bomb attack blamed on Syria. Damascus has denied any involvement.

Syria's relations with the United States struggled under the administration of former president George W. Bush amid accusations that Damascus was turning a blind eye to the arming and funding of insurgents in neighbouring Iraq.

The Bush administration also accused Damascus of supporting resistance groups, like Lebanon's Hezbollah and the democratically elected Palestinian Hamas movement.

Assad returned to the international fold in July with a visit to Paris, and since then, relations with the international community have thawed, most notably with the United States since Obama's inauguration in January.


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