President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton have stated their desire to use engagement with all countries in the Middle East to address issues of mutual concern.
As President Obama said in his February 27 speech at Camp Lejeune, the United States intends to pursue principled and sustained engagement with all countries in the region, including Syria.
U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman and Daniel Shapiro, Senior Director for the Middle East and North Africa on the National Security Council, met in Damascus, March 7th, with Syria's Foreign Minister Walid Mualem, presidential adviser Bouthania Chaban and Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad.
The talks were wide-ranging. Among the issues discussed was Arab-Israeli peace. "Comprehensive peace includes peace between Israel and all of its neighbors," said Ambassador Feltman.
Regarding Iraq, Ambassador Feltman noted that both the United States and Syria want a stable, secure, unified Iraq. This is an area where U.S. and Syrian interests coincide. There are differences too, including Syria's support for terrorist organizations, including Hamas and Hezbollah. These and other differences between the United States and Syria need to be addressed frankly.
The purpose of the talks, said Ambassador Feltman, was not to engage in finger pointing, but "to give the Syrians an opportunity to explain to us their concerns about us, to give the Syrians an opportunity to tell us their vision for the bilateral relationship, just as we were able to give the Syrians our view of what a constructive bilateral relationship would be."
The talks were constructive. In the weeks and months ahead, Syria's choices will help determine the pace and scope of further engagement.