WASHINGTON (AFP) – US envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell visits Syria for talks on peace with Israel, a spokesman said.
It will be Mitchell’s second visit to Syria since mid-June and is aimed at “trying to see what Syria’s prepared to do… to move towards a comprehensive process,” State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said on Thursday.
“We’re also trying to develop… bilateral issues that we have with the Syrians as well. I would imagine both of those will come up.”
President Barack Obama has moved to re-engage Damascus — a key regional player — as part of a bid to breathe new life into faltering peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
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 Rafik Hariri.
“There are aspects of Syrian behaviour 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,” Obama said in a recent interview with Sky News.
“But, as you know, I’m a believer in engagement and my hope is that we can continue to see progress on that front.”
The State Department spokesman added the rest of Mitchell’s program has yet to be fully mapped out.
“He will be in Israel on Sunday, for meetings with Israeli officials and Palestinian officials. He has other stops planned in Egypt and Bahrain during this trip,” Crowley said.
Bahrain’s Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa wrote in a Washington Post opinion last week: “We as Arabs have not done enough to communicate directly with the people of Israel.”
“Essentially, we have not done a good enough job demonstrating to Israelis how our initiative can form part of a peace between equals in a trouble land holy to three great faiths,” he wrote.