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US and Syrian envoys hold talks
Diplomats hold first high-level meeting under new US administration.
Last Modified: 27 Feb 2009 01:45 GMT

Imad Moustapha said the talks had
been "very constructive" [GALLO/GETTY]

US and Syrian diplomats have held talks in Washington in a bid to improve the strained ties between the two nations.

Imad Moustapha, Syria's ambassador to the US, met Jeffrey Feltman, the US state department's top diplomat for the Middle East, in the first high-level discussions between the two countries since Barack Obama became US president in January.

Moustapha said the talks were "very constructive" and expected many more between US and Syrian officials.

However, Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said it was too early to say whether relations would improve.

"It is too soon to say what the future holds," she said.

Ahmed Salkini, a spokesman for the Syrian embassy in Washington, told Al Jazeera Syria had raised concerns over US support for Israel.

"We made it very clear that we were very concerned about US policies vis-a-vis the Israelis being given a 'blank cheque' over what they did in Gaza ... or what happened in Lebanon."

The US cut diplomatic relations with Syria after the 2005 assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister. Syria denies any involvement in his killing.

But Obama, who took office in January, has introduced what many say is a new approach to the Middle East and offered dialogue with states such as Syria and Iran.

'Real co-operation'

John Kerry, left, said he saw possibilities for
co-operation between the US and Syria [EPA]
Earlier this month, John Kerry, the head of the US senate Foreign Relations Committee, visited Syria as part of a congressional delegation.

Kerry said he saw possibilities for "real co-operation" between Washington and Damascus. 

He said he was also encouraged by his "very long, candid, open" discussion with Bashar al-Assad, Syria's president, and said he saw the possibility of progress ahead.

"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 co-operation on a number of different issues beginning immediately, beginning soon," Kerry said.

'Arbitrary detention'

The meeting between Moustapha and Feltman comes a day after the state department released its annual survey on global human rights violations.

The survey said the Syrian government continued to commit serious abuses and said its respect for human rights had worsened.

"Security forces arbitrarily detained and tortured detainees and the government imposed significant restrictions on freedom of speech, press and assembly amid an atmosphere of government corruption," it said.

"In a climate of impunity, there were instances of arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of life."

There was no immediate comment on the survey from Syria.

Source:
Agencies
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