US seeks progress on Syria-Israel deal

DAMASCUS - A U.S. official discussed reviving peace talks between Israel and Syria on Wednesday with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

By (Reuters)

Published: Wed 20 Jan 2010, 11:46 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 7:41 AM

George Mitchell, President Barack Obama’s Middle East envoy, said the U.S. sought what he described as comprehensive Middle East peace that included a deal between Syria and Israel and the normalisation of relations between the two foes.

“Syria, certainly, has an important role to play in all of these efforts... and that was the topic of our discussion today,” Mitchell said in a brief statement.

He said he looked “forward to making tangible progress on our efforts toward peace and on the bilateral relations between the United States and Syria”.

Ties between Syria and the United States improved after President Barack Obama took office and Mitchell met Assad twice last year. Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal al-Mekdad, a leading figure in Syrian foreign policy, also visited Washington.

Differences, however, persisted between the two countries.

Obama renewed U.S. sanctions on Syria, which were first imposed in 2004 for its support of militant groups, and a U.S. ambassador has not returned to Damascus, although Washington announced in June its intention to send an ambassador back after a five-year break.

Airbus deal

Syrian officials have said the U.S. government also rejected an application by Airbus to sell passenger aircraft worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Syria’s state owned airline. The deal needs American approval because the planes have a percentage of U.S. components.

Damascus has not hidden its frustration with the pace of ties with Washington. Syrian officials have said Obama should lift the sanctions and exert pressure on Israel to renew the peace talks.

The indirect talks, which were mediated by Turkey, broke down during the Israeli offensive on Gaza a year ago without defining the boundary of the Golan Heights, the Syrian plateau that Israel occupied in the 1967 Middle East War.

Syria said it wants an Israeli commitment to withdraw from the whole of the Golan based on a U.N. resolution stating the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force. Israel said it was willing to resume the talks without preconditions.

Israel and its chief ally, the United States, want Syria to cool its ties with Iran as well as stop supporting the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement, and help sideline them as armed players.

A Syrian source said Assad would continue to show flexibility with Washington but only up to a point.

“The late Hafez al-Assad used to say that the Americans want us to commit suicide. Bashar has limits to what he can give the United States,” the source said.

Bashar succeeded his father, the late President Hafez al-Assad, in 2000, months after the elder Assad, who ruled Syria for three decades, rejected a U.S.-supervised deal that did not restore what he considered as a the whole of the Golan.

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