DAMASCUS (Reuters) – U.S. envoy George Mitchell discussed on Saturday Washingtonâ€™s Middle East peace efforts with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, marking a further thaw of relations between the two countries.
â€œWe are well aware of the many difficulties … yet we share an obligation to create conditions for negotiations to begin promptly and end successfully,â€ Mitchell, President Barack Obamaâ€™s Middle East envoy, said after the meeting.
His visit to Syria was preceded by talks between U.S. and Syrian security officials in Damascus on Friday that included discussions on Iraq, sources in the Syrian capital said.
A U.S. embassy official said the meeting was between a â€œmilitary-ledâ€ U.S. team and a Syrian delegation. The official declined to give further details.
Relations between Syria and the United States improved after Obama took office in January and U.S. officials said he was committed to seeking a peace deal between Syria and Israel as part of an overall Middle East peace deal.
â€œSyria has an integral role to play in reaching comprehensive peace,â€ Mitchell said.
The Syrian government, however, remains under U.S. sanctions, partly because of what the United States describes as a Syrian role in helping insurgents infiltrate Iraq. Obama renewed the sanctions last month and said Syria still posed a threat to U.S. interests.