It looks like you're using an Ad Blocker.
Please white-list or disable AboveTopSecret.com in your ad-blocking tool.
Some features of ATS will be disabled while you continue to use an ad-blocker.
(visit the link for the full news article)
The United States is engaging Syria again - if tentatively.
A senior American diplomat, briefing reporters by phone from Damascus today, said that his talks with Syrian officials were constructive, comprehensive and lengthy - but that this is only the beginning of engagement. As for specific achievements, the U.S. official - Jeffrey Feltman, acting assistant secretary of state - said, "Let's keep our expectations in check here." He said that no subjects were taboo, but that this was just the start of a process.
Feltman and Dan Shapiro of the National Security Council held talks with Syria's foreign minister and two other officials - but did not see Syria's President Bashar Assad and did not say what the next steps would be.
Today's meetings were the first high-level diplomatic contacts between the U.S. and Syria since the Bush administration cut off relations four years ago in response to the assassination of Lebanon's former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Feltman said they discussed a broad range of issues - regional and international - as well as bilateral issues and how to move forward. "It is our view that Syria can play an important, constructive role in the region," he said.
Asked about any concrete achievement - and whether the U.S. government is any closer to returning a U.S. ambassador to Damascus or more interested now in supporting the indirect Israeli-Syrian peace talks that the previous administration opposed - Feltman said only that President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton talked about engagement as a way to achieve goals - but "this is part of a process. We'll see how this develops ... the Syrians have concerns about us as well - I'm sure the Syrians will be looking at decisions we make just as we will be looking at decisions they make."
In another departure from Bush policy, he indicated support for eventual resumption of Israeli-Syrian talks: "We want a comprehensve Israeli-Arab peace. We do want to see forward momentum on the Israeli-Syrian tract when the two parties are ready for this." Those talks were being brokered through Turkey (where Hillary Clinton is today) but broke off during the resumption of hostilities between Hamas and Israel over Gaza.
Asked about Syria's role in the future of Iraq, Feltman said: "There are areas like this - a stable, unified Iraq -where our interests coincide. This is the kind of subject we can explore. Let's see where our interests intersect."
He also indicated that the U.S. side brought up the subject of North Korea's export of nuclear technology to Syria (a suspected nuclear facility in Syria was leveled in a secret Israeli airstrike two years ago). Specifically, when asked if nonproliferation and nuclear issues involving North Korea were discussed with the Syrians, he said: "We're not going to get into a lot of detail. We're looking to the IAEA for their examination, but our talks were comprehensive."
When asked if they had any plans to meet with Assad - and whether the Syrians want to have a U.S. ambassador back in Damascus before that takes place - Feltman said: "We asked for meetings with the Syrian officials ... We stated we want to come to Damascus. We didn't try to dictate to Damascus who our interlocutors would be."
Asked if there would be any change in the U.S. inclusion of Syria on its list of terrorism-supporting states - and any change in Syria's support for Hezbollah - he said: "Let's keep our expectations in check here.We had a good meeting today - but the differences between our two countries will require more work through conversations. We found a lot of common ground today, there were no subjects that were taboo, but it is unrealistic to expect particuar results out of this meeting."
In terms of Hezbollah, Syria has backed the U.N. Security Council resolution that ended the hostilities in the July-August 2006 war, Feltman said that can be the basis of further discussions.
The call was cut off by State Department officials in Washington before he could be asked about Syria's support for Hamas leaders in Gaza - or today's announcement of the planned resignation of a top Palestinian Authority leader, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, whom the U.S. has long hoped would eventually lead a Palestinian unity government.