U.S. envoy talks Middle East peace with Syria's Assad

DAMASCUS Sat Jun 13, 2009 11:32am EDT

1 of 2. U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell walks to read a statement after his meeting with Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus June 13, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/ Khaled al-Hariri

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DAMASCUS (Reuters) - U.S. envoy George Mitchell discussed on Saturday Washington's Middle East peace efforts with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, marking a further thaw of relations between the two countries.

"We are well aware of the many difficulties ... yet we share an obligation to create conditions for negotiations to begin promptly and end successfully," Mitchell, President Barack Obama'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 "military-led" 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.

"Syria has an integral role to play in reaching comprehensive peace," 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.

(Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis)

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