Thursday, October 02, 2008

U.S., Syria officials talk

Published: 10/02/2008

Senior U.S. and Syrian officials discussed Israel-Syria peace talks.

Walid Moallem, Syria's foreign minister, met in New York during the opening of the United Nations General Assembly last week with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and subsequently with David Welch, the top U.S. Middle East envoy, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.

American officials pressed Syria on its continued support for terrorist groups and interference in Lebanon, as well as allegations that it continues to back insurgents in Iraq. But they also discussed indirect Turkish-brokered peace talks between Israel and Syria, a track that Washington has opposed until now.

"I consider this a good progress in the American position," Moallem told the Journal. "We agreed to continue this dialogue."

The Bush administration continues to remain skeptical of Syrian overtures to the West. In his U.N. speech, President Bush singled out Syria as a backer of terrorism.

Among the presidential candidates, spokesmen for U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) have said that he would continue to isolate Syria, while spokesmen for Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) have said he would encourage the Israel-Syria track.

Separately, a-Asharq al-Awsat, a London-based Arabic language daily, reported that Syria had renewed its nuclear weapons program a year after Israel destroyed a nuclear reactor.

According to the report, which cites Israeli sources, Syria is emulating Iran and has diffused its program to multiple sites to make another attack more difficult. Syrian officials, including Moallem, have denied the existence of such a program.

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