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John Kerry, a US senator, met with Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, in Damascus on Saturday, to explore the prospects for improving relations between the two countries.

His is just the latest in a series of high profile visits to the region.

After the meeting, Kerry expressed hopes for "real cooperation" between the two nations, which have a long history of tension.

Washington condemns Syria's support for groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah and has accused Damascus of allowing foreign fighters to cross into Iraq and of involvement in the assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri, the late Lebanese prime minister.

In the past two years, Jimmy Carter, a former US president, and Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the US House of Representatives, have traveled to the country. Both were criticised by the Bush administration, which claimed that their visits could "hurt US interests".

How will the Obama administration deal with Syria? Will it move away from the Bush administration's policies, which were aimed at regime change, and instead be more open to dialogue?

Inside Story, with presenter Sohail Rahman, discusses.

This episode of Inside Story aired on Sunday, February 22, 2009.

Source: Al Jazeera