Syria has indicated it is willing to help achieve a Palestinian unity government that could restart peace talks with Israel, the chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee said on Saturday.
"Syria could be, in fact, very helpful in helping to bring about a unity government," Senator John Kerry told reporters after meeting President Bashar al-Assad.
"If you achieve that, then you have made a major step forward not only in dealing with the problems of Gaza but you have made a major step forward in terms of how you reignite discussions for the two-state solution ... I think that Syria indicated to me a willingness to be helpful in that respect."
"I believe very deeply that this is an important moment of change, a moment of potential transformation, not just in the relationship between the United States and Syria but in the relationship of the region," Kerry said. "While we will disagree on some issues for sure, what I heard and what I will take back with me and hopefully what we could put in place to take advantage of it, is the possibility of real cooperation on a number of different issues beginning immediately, beginning soon."
In a sign that President Barack Obama is seeking better ties, several US congressmen have passed through Syria in the last few days, including Sen.Kerry.
According to the SANA news agency, Assad called for dialogue and told Kerry that America should refrain from dictating its views to others, as such policy "has been proven ineffective."
Breaking the ice? (Photo: AP)
The State Department announced Friday it has scheduled a meeting next week with Syria's ambassador to the US to discuss differences between the two countries - the first such meeting in months.
The congressional delegations, led by Democrats, are carrying the message that America wants to engage countries it has been at odds with if they are willing, as Obama puts it, to unclench their fists.
But during his stop in Beirut on Wednesday, Kerry said the US would renew diplomacy with Syria but in return expected Syria to "change its behavior" - particularly on Iraq and Lebanon.
"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," Kerry said in Beirut.
Syria's ambassador to Washington described the congressional visits to Damascus as being "of extreme importance and depth." But he stressed he was still waiting to see if the visits change "the manner of dialogue between us and America."
"Let us see what are the goals we all want to reach, where we agree, where we disagree," Imad Mustapha told The Associated Press in Damascus.
Reuters, AP and Roee Nahmias contributed to the report