News24

Syria a key ME player - US

2009-06-13 18:21

Damascus - US President Barack Obama's special Mideast envoy said on Saturday that Syria has a key role to play in forging peace in the region during a visit that marked the strongest US push yet to improve relations with the country.

The Obama administration has stepped up pressure on Arab countries to help resume Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and also pursue a peace deal with the Jewish state themselves.

Syria is seen as a key player in this process because of its support for the Palestinian militant group Hamas that controls the Gaza Strip and its intermittent peace talks with Israel.

"Syria has an integral role to play in reaching comprehensive peace," said George Mitchell, Obama's Mideast envoy and the highest ranking official to visit Syria since 2005 when the US recalled its ambassador.

Syria and the US share an obligation "to create conditions for negotiations to begin promptly and end successfully", Mitchell told reporters after a 90-minute meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad in the capital, Damascus.

A senior Syrian official described Saturday's talks as "very positive" and said the two also discussed the situation in neighbouring Iraq, where the US has often criticised Syria for allowing militants to enter across its border. The official spoke on condition of anonymity.

Mitchell's visit to Syria follows two separate trips in the past few months by senior US officials Jeffrey Feltman, acting assistant secretary of state, and Daniel Shapiro, a Middle East expert at the White House.

The Obama administration hopes the diplomatic outreach will encourage Syria to play a positive role in both the Mideast peace process and also in Iraq.