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Syria ready for dialogue with US on Iraq

US President George W Bush has in the past refused to ask Iran and Syria to help end the insurgency in Iraq.

india Updated: Nov 14, 2006 17:47 IST

Syria welcomes the suggestion that the United States might seek its help to stabilise Iraq and is waiting to see whether Washington will open the way for talks with Damascus, a government daily said on Tuesday.

"Syria is ready for dialogue with the United States to achieve security and stability ... and extends its hands sincerely as always waiting for a response. The ball is in their court," an editorial in Tishreen said.

"Statements on the need for dialogue with Syria and how to start addressing the problems of the region as a whole are interesting," Tishreen said.

US President George W Bush has in the past refused to ask Iran and Syria to help end the insurgency in Iraq, but the recent Democrat capture of both US houses of Congress in mid-term elections, largely because of voters' anger over the Iraq war, has led to signs of a change of course.

Senator Joseph Biden, a Democrat who is expected to head the Senate's Committee on Foreign Relations, said last week the United States should convene an international conference on Iraq with Syrian and Iranian participation.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush's main ally in Iraq, sent a senior adviser to meet President Bashar al-Assad last month and asked Syria to do more to help stop an alleged flow of weapons into Iraq across their long border.

In an annual foreign policy speech on Monday, Blair said that a "new partnership" was possible with Damascus and Tehran and urged the two countries to help stem the violence in Iraq and stabilise the situation there.

A US bipartisan panel, the Iraq Study Group, is reviewing policy on Iraq and will report to Bush in about a month.

Some of its members favour engaging with Iran and Syria over Iraq.

Blair, who is due to give evidence to the group on Tuesday, also called on Monday for a broad Middle East strategy, starting with a drive to tackle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Tishreen said in its editorial that Washington's latest veto of a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel for an attack that killed 19 civilians in Gaza did not bode well for a "constructive and objective" US stance on regional issues.

Relations between Syria and the United States, bad for years, worsened after the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq that removed Saddam Hussein from power.

Syria called the invasion "armed robbery" and Washington accused Damascus of letting fighters and weapons cross the desert border to join the mounting anti-US insurgency there.

Relations worsened sharply after the 2005 assassination of Lebanon's anti-Syrian ex-prime minister, Rafik al-Hariri.

Syria, under massive international pressure over the killing, was forced to withdraw its troops from Lebanon after 29 years there.

Syria says a stable Iraq is in its national interest and has called on the Iraqi government to patrol its side of the border more effectively.

Around one million Iraqi refugees have fled to Syria since the US-led invasion, driven out by sectarian killings as well as the insurgency.