US and Syria hold high-level talks

Rice holds meeting with Syrian counterpart and says "hello" to Iranian minister.

    Walid al-Moualem said the talks were "a start" and called them "frank and constructive" [Reuters]
    Rice described her 30-minute meeting with Walid al-Moualem, the Syrian foreign minister, as "professional and business-like" and said she had urged Syria to stop foreign fighters from entering Iraq.
    "I didn't lecture him; he didn't lecture me," Rice said.
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    "The Syrians clearly say that stability in Iraq is in their interest, but actions will speak louder than words and we will have to see how this develops."
    Al-Moualem said the talks were "a start" and called them "frank and constructive".
    The ministers have no specific plans to meet again, although officials will continue to discuss ways to improve security in Iraq, diplomats said.
    Al-Moualem said they had "agreed to continue dialogue".
    "We are serious and we expect the United States to show the same seriousness."
    Syria doing more
    Washington has accused Syria of allowing foreign fighters to enter Iraq through the long border between the two countries and is pressing for an international tribunal to try suspects in the 2005 killing of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri.
    The US military acknowledged on Thursday that Syria was doing more to stop the flow of fighters into Iraq in the last month.
    The carefully orchestrated meeting between Rice and al-Moualem overshadowed the modest initial accomplishments from the international gathering at the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh to discuss security and debt relief for Iraq.

    The US-Syria talks overshadowed the Iraq
    security and debt relief conference [AFP]

    Iraq's embattled prime minister was among those leaning on the Bush administration to engage Syria and Iran, saying that the neighbouring countries could help lessen violence in Iraq.
    Only last month, the White House criticised Nancy Pelosi, the house speaker, for a diplomatic trip to Damascus.
    Rice said "having the secretary of state take an opportunity to speak to the foreign minister of Syria about a concrete problem involving Iraq, at an Iraqi neighbours' conference, makes more sense".
    Rice called Pelosi ahead of her trip to Egypt, McCormack said.
    Hello Iran
    Rice also briefly exchanged pleasantries during lunch with Manouchehr Mottaki, her Iranian counterpart, but did not discuss politics, US state department spokesman Sean McCormack said.
    "They said hello, that's about it. It was not about substance," he said.

    Conference adopts Iraq plan

    Rice said the US has not sought direct talks with Iran.
    Although she had seemed to invite a broader engagement with Iran before the Iraq meeting, the tone changed in recent days as US officials played down the chances for any substantive exchange, and some said they would wait for clearer signals from the Iranians that they were ready to talk.
    "We haven't planned and have not asked for a bilateral meeting, nor have they asked us," Rice said.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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