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Saturday, December 23, 2006

Syria's 'isolation is over'

Syria's 'isolation is over'
23/12/2006 08:32  - (SA)    
London - The international isolation of Syria is over as Western powers have realised they need to work with Damascus, Syrian deputy prime minister Abdallah Dardari told a British newspaper published on Saturday.
Dardari told the Financial Times business daily that the international community now recognised that it ought to talk to President Bashar al-Assad's regime if it wanted progress in the Middle East, particularly on Lebanon and Iraq.
"The former political isolation of Syria has ended. It is no longer there," he told the FT.
"I don't want to say there is a sense of 'I told you so' but there is a sense that people are realising in Western capitals that if you want to be influential in the Middle East, you have to come through Damascus."
Relations between the United States and Syria are tense. But earlier this week, two US senators, including John Kerry, the former Democratic party presidential candidate, were in Damascus for talks with Assad.
Dardari said that previously, the United States had simply presented Syria with a list of demands to end various practices, instead of talking about mutual interests, and that this attitude proved ineffective.
"It didn't work in April 2003, just after (the) occupation of Baghdad. If it didn't work then, at the peak of US influence in the region, it will not work now with Syria," he said.
Dardari added that Syria's priority was to secure the return of the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel since 1967.
The United States said Wednesday it supported Syrian opposition groups rivalling Assad, but said such support was overt, and not a secret bid to undermine his government.
US President George W Bush has dismissed calls for a direct US dialogue with Syria, which Washington accuses of letting extremists into Iraq and undermining Lebanon's fragile democracy by funding and training the militant Hezbollah group.
The Syrian government daily Ath-Thawra hit out on Friday at terms set out by the US government for heeding a bi-partisan panel's recommendation to open a dialogue on calming neighbouring Iraq.
The paper was following a line already set out by Assad.
"They (the Americans) have to differentiate between a dialogue and giving instructions. We are open to a dialogue, but we will not take instructions," Assad said earlier this month.

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