US senators visiting the Middle East Wednesday said Syria needs to change its behavior to improve relations with the United States, as the Syrian president said he wanted to develop ties with Washington.
The comments came from Benjamin Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, who met with Syria's President Bashar Assad Wednesday, and John Kerry, a Democrat who heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in Beirut Wednesday. Kerry is slated to visit Damascus later this week as is another congressional delegation.
The visit comes after President Barack Obama has offered to engage countries that had been at odds with the US.
After meeting with Assad, Cardin said the US administration will be watching Syria's actions "very carefully."
Cardin said he blamed Syria for the deteriorated relations, saying Damascus has isolated itself by sponsoring international terrorism, providing safe haven for terrorist organizations and Syria's "troubling relations with Iran."
"The question we came to try and answer here in Syria is whether or not Syria is ready to make important and significant decisions that bring us closer rather than lose this opportunity to move forward," Cardin said.
Kerry said the US would renew diplomacy with Syria but in return expected Damascus to "change its behavior," particularly with respect to Iraq and Lebanon. He said the US also wants Syria to help with the disarmament of Hizbullah.
"But unlike the Bush administration that believed you could simply tell people what to do and walk away and wait for them to do it, we believe we have to engage in a discussion," he said.
Syria's official news agency said Assad told Cardin that his country wants to develop relations with the United States. It said their talks focused on developing bilateral relations "through serious and positive dialogue based on mutual respect and joint interest in finding just solutions to the region's problems."