The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that senior American and Syrian
diplomats held a series of meetings in New York over the past week, in what the New-York-based daily said was "a sign of a potential thaw between the US and a country that President George W. Bush has alleged is a principal sponsor of international terrorism."
The report said US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem were among the senior officials who took part in the talks.
Participants in the talks told The Wall Street Journal that the diplomats discussed Washington's support for peace talks between Syria and Israel
over the future of the disputed Golan Heights region and Damascus's role in the security situations in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.
In an interview with the newspaper Moallem addressed the ongoing indirect negotiations between Damascus and Jerusalem.
"We had four rounds of talks, promising talks, in Istanbul. We agreed to have the fifth round, on seventh September. But because of the situation in Israel, the Israeli side asked the Turks to postpone it. We are waiting to see what the position will be of Ms. (Tzipi) Livni's government," the Syrian FM said.
Foreign Minister Livni
was recently elected chairwoman of the ruling Kadima party in place of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who handed in his resignation on September 21.
"The most important thing is not to continue or not, but to have the will, the political will, to achieve peace based on the Madrid terms of reference and land-for-peace."
Asked by the Wall Street Journal what type of relations he would want with the next US administration, Moallem said "we were passing eight years of this (Bush) administration, which (does) not consider achieving comprehensive peace in the Middle East one of its priorities. And because the American role is important in our region, we hope that the coming administration will consider to change towards making a comprehensive peace in the Middle East one of its priorities.
"In the Middle East, each crisis influences the other. But the main crisis, the Arab-Israeli conflict, influences all other crises in the region," he added.
In contrast to Moallem's conciliatory remarks, Syrian President Bashar Assad told the chairman of the Lebanese newspaper editors committee that the US was not interested in promoting peace in the Middle East, adding that Europe was capable of "helping the US become more objective."
Assad added that a possible peace agreement with Israel would not affect Syria's relations with Iran.