New York, Asharq Al-Awsat – Prior to the start of the bilateral meeting between US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Jeffrey D. Feltman, told Asharq Al-Awsat that “there are major differences with the Syrians, but we must remain hopeful.”
Feltman added that Clinton and Muallem had “a lot to discuss” during this meeting, particularly since this would be the first official meeting to take place between the two parties since President Barack Obama first came to office. Feltman also stressed that Washington “is seeking to achieve a comprehensive peace in the region” and that issue “requires action by both parties, the Syrians and the Lebanese” to take place parallel with the dialogue between the Palestinians and Israelis.
Regarding the lack of a press conference following this bilateral meeting, Feltman stressed that there is nothing behind this and that Secretary of State Clinton did not hold press conferences for the numerous other bilateral meetings she was involved in on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.
Syria hailed the “constructive dialogue” that took place today between US Secretary of State Clinton and Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, while US State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley confirmed that Clinton “affirmed our objective of comprehensive peace in the Middle East, which includes the Syrian track” as well as the US commitment to placing a US ambassador in Damascus. Crowley also revealed that “Lebanon was probably the most significant topic of discussion” and that Clinton stressed that “in the context of both Lebanon and Iraq…no outside party should be working to undermine the stability of either country.”
Prior to this meeting, a US State Department spokesman had also stated that “a comprehensive peace in the Middle East includes peace between the Palestinians and Israelis, and also between Syria and Israel and Lebanon and Israel, as well as complete normalization of relations between Israel and its neighbors.”
Clinton previously briefly met with Muallem in March 2009 on the sidelines of the Gaza Reconstruction Summit following the Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip in December 2008.
Muallem and Clinton also spoke over the phone last year on the issue of developing bilateral relations between their two countries. Clinton had announced last week that the US had a plan to involve Syria and Lebanon in the negotiations, in order to reach a comprehensive peace in the region, under the Arab Peace Initiative that was put forward in 2002.