The United States balked at Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's call to open talks with the anti-Israeli groups Hamas and Hezbollah, saying the militants had to renounce violence first.
"We would like to see Syria change the behavior of these two groups," State Department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters yesterday. "We have already stated what our position is with regard to sitting down with Hamas," he said.
The United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia -- the so-called diplomatic quartet on the Middle East -- insist Hamas recognize the state of Israel's right to exist, renounce violence and respect past accords.
"And Hezbollah, which is also a terrorist organization, needs to renounce violence and be a productive player in the region," Wood said. "These two groups have not."
"We call on Syria to use its influence to make these two groups play a much more -- play a constructive role in the region," he added.
In an interview with French television, Assad urged the United States on Sunday to reach out to the Palestinian resistance movement Hamas and Lebanon's Shiite Muslim Hezbollah in order to boost chances for Middle East peace.