U.S. Sen. Kerry: Syria Is Committed to Peace

Kerry adds, however, that Washington is concerned about weapons flowing to Hezbollah.

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United States Senator John Kerry said Thursday that Syria is committed to achieving peace in the Middle East and is essential to the process.

"Syria is an essential player in bringing peace and stability to the region," Kerry said.

However, the Democratic senator, who is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters after a three-hour meeting with Syiran President Bashar Assad in Damascus that Washington is concerned about the flow of weapons from Syria to Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

"That is something that must stop in order to promote regional stability and security," Kerry said about the weapons.

Syria is a strong supporter of militant groups such as the Iranian-backed Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas, whose exiled leadership is based in Damascus.

Turkey mediated several rounds of indirect negotiations between Syria and Israel in 2008, but the discussions made no significant headway. Direct talks between the enemies broke down in 2000.

The Syrian news agency said that Kerry and Assad stressed the need of continuing constructive dialogue between Syria and United States based on mutual respect and common interests to reach positive solutions for issues of common interest, the agency said.

Kerry said Washington and Syria have "a very deep interest, a mutual interest in having a very frank exchange on any differences if they exist."

Kerry who said he has long advocated American engagement with Syria, added, "I am very committed to working on a continued effort to achieve progress in our bilateral relationship."

Kerry's comments come one day after Assad reconciled with Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, who had a falling out after the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.

The two former rivals on Wednesday discussed the importance of resistance against Israel.

"The meeting discussed the importance of role of the resistance as a guarantee against Israeli plans," the news agency said, in a reference to Hezbollah, which mediated the meeting.

The meeting consolidated Syria's political gains in Lebanon as it restored influence lost when it withdrew troops from its neighbor five years ago under international pressure. It also opened channels with Lebanese politicians who have been firmly in the U.S.-backed camp.

Washington has reached out to Syria in recent months by nominating the first U.S. ambassador to Damascus since 2005 and sending top diplomats to meet with Assad.

Washington is hoping to draw Syria away from Iran and the militant groups Hezbollah and Hamas. Kerry's visit is the latest by several American officials.



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