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US answers Assad – 'Stop supporting terror first'

State Department rejects Syrian president's call urging Washington to negotiate with Hamas and Hizbullah, suggests Damascus use its influence over aforementioned organizations in positive manner

Yitzhak Benhorin
Published: 05.05.09, 01:33 / Israel News

WASHINGTON - The US would like to see Syria play a constructive role in the Middle East, US State Department Spokesman Robert Wood said on Monday in response to Syrian President Bashar Assad's call urging Washington to establish dialogue with Hamas and Hizbullah.

 

Wood said that the US "would to see Syria change the behavior" of Hamas and Hizbullah, and reiterated

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that the US administration views both as terrorist organizations.

 

"We call on Syria to use its influence to make these two groups play a constructive role in the region. As I said, up until now they haven’t. They know what they need to do, and we hope Syria will use its influence on these two groups."

 

The State Department's comments came several days after President Assad proposed in a televised interview with 'France 3' that Washington deal "directly or indirectly" with Hizbullah and Hamas in order to achieve peace in the Middle East. Assad further suggested that his country would facilitate the talks between the US and the Arab groups.

 

Wood also addressed reported Israeli concerns regarding the rapprochement between Washington and Damascus, saying: "We hope to have a dialogue with Syria about a number of concerns that we have in the region. And we hope that that will result in Syria taking some steps that we want to see. And our interests are the same as Israel’s in terms of trying to get Syria to play a much more productive role in the region, to cease from supporting terrorist groups."

 

A number of senior US officials visited Syria some two months ago, and another delegation is expected to travel there in the coming weeks, although Wood said he did not have any new details at present.

 

Further allaying concerns that the rekindled diplomacy between the US and Syria was moving too fast, Wood added: "So we’ve got a long way to go before we actually have a good relationship with Syria. As I said, we have a number of outstanding concerns, and hopefully we’ll be able to address them as we go along. We think Syria has an opportunity to play a positive role in the region. We encourage it to do so."

 

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