Obama considering meeting with Assad in June
U.S. President Barack Obama is considering meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad this summer, a United Arab Emirates-based newspaper reported yesterday.
The Al Khaleej daily based its report on Arab diplomatic sources in Cairo. They told the paper the United States was weighing holding the meeting, the first of its kind in nine years, as a measure to advance the Middle East peace process.
According to the report, the Obama administration is contemplating the move in the wake of a number of recent meetings between senior American and Syrian officials.
The diplomatic sources were quoted as saying that should the U.S. decide to go ahead with the meeting, it would be part of a new approach to Middle East peacemaking that involves reaching out to Syria and Iran.
The meeting would likely be held on the sidelines of a G8 summit in Rome in June. The last time U.S. and Syrian presidents met was in 2000, when Bill Clinton met with Hafez Assad, the current Syrian leader's late father, in Geneva.
Diplomats told Haaretz last week that the U.S. and Syria are undergoing a rapprochement "which is progressing to the satisfaction of both parties." The U.S. does not have an ambassador in Damascus, but over the past months several U.S. delegations have visited Syria to conduct talks with Assad's regime there.
The new administration under Obama also improved ties with Syria's ambassador to the U.S., Imad Mustapha.
U.S.-Syrian relations have long been tense, particularly since the U.S. ambassador was pulled out by the Bush administration in 2005 to protest Syria's suspected role in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in Beirut.
Damascus denied involvement but was forced to withdraw its troops from Lebanon in the ensuing uproar, ending a 29-year military presence.
The U.S. has also criticized Syria for supporting militant groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah and has accused Syria of not doing enough to prevent foreign fighters from crossing into Iraq.
Syria has said it is doing all it can to safeguard its long, porous border.