Mon, Feb 23, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Assad tells Kerry US should stop ‘dictating’

DIALOGUE The Syrian president told visiting US diplomats that future relations should be based on a ‘proper understanding’ of regional issues and interests

AFP , DAMASCUS

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told visiting US members of Congress on Saturday that the US should “move away from a policy based on dictating decisions.”

Assad’s guests on Saturday included US Senator John Kerry, who headed the third delegation this week to call on the Syrian president’s door as Washington reviews its policies toward countries the previous administration regarded as hostile.

Assad told his visitors that future relations should be based on a “proper understanding” by Washington of regional issues and on common interests, SANA news agency reported.

“Dialogue, based on the history of the region and the rights of its peoples, is the only way to understand and resolve problems,” he said.

Kerry, who lost the 2004 presidential election to former US president George W. Bush and now chairs the Senate’s powerful Foreign Relations Committee, met Assad on the same day as Howard Berman, the chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, SANA said.

Both legislators underlined “Syria’s active role” in the region and the importance of “developing dialogue between Damascus and Washington,” SANA said.

US Senator Benjamin Cardin headed another group that visited Assad on Wednesday.

Earlier in his Middle East tour, Kerry had highlighted Syria’s support for Iran and regional Islamist militant groups, including the Shiite Hezbollah movement in Lebanon.

“We want Syria to respect the political independence of Lebanon, we want Syria to help in the process of resolving issues with Hezbollah and with the Palestinians,” he said in Lebanon on Wednesday.

“We want Syria to help ... with the disarmament of Hezbollah,” added Kerry, the most senior US official to visit Damascus since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in 2007.

Syria dominated Lebanon for three decades until April 2005 when it pulled out its troops in the face of domestic and international pressure following the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.

Damascus has denied accusations it was behind the murder

Hezbollah, which is also backed by US arch-foe Iran and viewed in Washington as a terrorist organization, fought a devastating war with Israel in 2006.

Kerry said in Lebanon that US President Barack Obama’s administration plans to adopt a fresh approach in the Middle East “but without any illusion.”

“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 you have to engage in a discussion,” he said.

“So we are going to renew diplomacy but without any illusion, without any naivety, without any misplaced belief that, just by talking, things will automatically happen,” he said.

The Bush administration repeatedly accused Damascus of turning a blind eye to the arming and funding of insurgents in Iraq and of supporting terrorism.

The US withdrew its ambassador from Syria after the February 2005 assassination of Hariri in a car bombing widely blamed on Syria. Damascus has denied any involvement.

Assad returned to the international fold last year with a visit to Paris, and since then relations with the world community have thawed.

The US diplomatic flurry was overshadowed by the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) announcement on Thursday that it has found unexplained uranium particles at a remote desert site in Syria.

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