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Syria's Assad ready to cooperate with Obama: report
BERLIN (Reuters) - Syria is ready to cooperate with U.S. President-elect Barack Obama and wants him to get seriously involved in the Middle East peace process, President Bashar al-Assad told a German magazine.
In an interview with Der Spiegel released on Saturday, Assad also expressed some caution about future relations and said he preferred to talk about hopes rather than expectations.
Ties between the West and Syria have been strained by U.S. accusations that Syria turned a blind eye to Islamist fighters infiltrating Iraq and in 2004 Washington imposed sanctions on Syria for backing anti-American groups in the region.
Syria has, however, regained a degree of approval in Europe after supporting a peace pact for Lebanon and forging diplomatic ties with its neighbor after years of dominating it.
Asked if he expected cooperation to be easier with Obama, Assad said:
"I would talk more about hope than expectation. The Bush government has bestowed two wars on us. The world situation has deteriorated in the last eight years in every way, everything has got worse, including economic developments."
"The new U.S. government must get seriously involved in the peace process. We must help, together with the Europeans."
Responding to a comment from Der Spiegel that Obama might ask Syria to stop Iran building a nuclear bomb, Assad said:
"We would like to contribute to the stabilization of the region. But we must be included, not isolated, as we have been until now. We are ready for any kind of cooperation."
He added, however, that Syria would put its own interests first. "Good relations with Washington should not mean bad relations with Tehran," he said.
Assad also said in the interview, which was conducted on Thursday, that he had been active in making suggestions to help end the conflict in Gaza.
Arab and Muslim states on Friday called on Arab countries to review their ties with Israel over its offensive in Gaza which has killed more than 1,200 Palestinians and to suspend an Arab peace initiative.
Assad also said many European officials had tried to communicate with Hamas. "The Europeans have learned. That is why they are talking to the Hamas leadership here in Damascus -- of course not publicly. I won't name names. But some are people who denounce Hamas," said Assad.
(Reporting by Madeline Chambers)
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