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Obama for Closer ‘Engagement’ with Syria | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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LONDON (AFP) – US President Barack Obama said he was troubled by Syria’s behavior but hoped for progress in ties with former foe Damascus, in an interview to be screened Sunday.

Obama was asked by Britain’s Sky News television if he would accept an invitation to go to Damascus for face-to-face talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“We’ve started to see some diplomatic contacts between the United States and Syria,” Obama said, in an interview recorded during Saturday’s visit to Ghana.

“There are aspects of Syrian behavior that trouble us and we think that there is a way that Syria can be much more constructive on a whole host of these issues.

“But, as you know, I’m a believer in engagement and my hope is that we can continue to see progress on that front.”

Assad said earlier this month that he would be willing to meet Obama in Syria to discuss Middle East issues.

“We would like to welcome him in Syria, definitely. I am very clear about this,” he told Sky News.

The Obama administration said last month it would send an ambassador back to Syria after a four-year absence, as Washington tries to engage with a former foe in a bid to revive Arab-Israeli peace talks.

The previous administration of president George W. Bush had put relations with Syria on hold in 2005, following the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri.

Obama has moved to re-engage Damascus, a key regional player, as the United States seeks to breathe new life into the faltering peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Washington first imposed economic sanctions on Syria in 2004 over charges it was sponsoring terrorism. The sanctions have been extended several times since.