U.S.: Syria Is Essential to Achieving Mideast Peace

U.S. Secretary of State is scheduled to meet Syrian foreign minister on Monday in New York to discuss possible renewal of Syria-Israel talks.

A senior U.S. official said Friday that the United States saw Syria as an essential component in the path to achieving a comprehensive Middle East peace, ahead of a meeting between the U.S. and Syria, scheduled for Monday.

Assad and Mitchell, Sept 16, 2010, Reuters

"A comprehensive peace has to include the Syria-Israel track. It’s absolutely essential that Syria be part of this process," Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeff Feltman told reporters.

"The fact that the Secretary [of State Hillary Clinton] is seeing [Syrian] Foreign Minister Walid Moallem on Monday, I think speaks for itself in terms of our commitment and our hope that now is the right time to move forward in trying to restart the Syria-Israel track," Feltman added.

Answering reporters' questions in New York, where the United Nations annual summit has convened, Feltman said that the upcoming meeting in New York between Clinton and Moallem will take place in that spirit, and stressed that "the Palestinians have told us that they would be very supportive of having a Syria track as well."

"We have a lot of differences with Syria," Feltman added. "Those differences aren't going to disappear overnight. We also recognize that it is certainly in our interest to do what we can to engage the Syrians and the Israelis in a peace process that can lead to a comprehensive peace."

Meanwhile, Clinton met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday as the Obama administration engaged in furious, last-minute diplomacy to prevent Israeli-Palestinian peace talks from collapsing when the temporary settlement construction freeze ends on Sunday.

The Palestinians have threatened to walk out of the talks if Israel does not extend a slowdown in West Bank settlement activity.

Feltman told reporters the U.S. is urging Israel to extend the moratorium and that both parties need to see the negotiations through to their conclusion.

Arab League chief Amr Moussa warned late Friday that the peace talks would fail unless Israel extended a partial ban on settlement building in the West Bank.

Speaking on the sidelines of the United Nations annual summit in New York, Moussa said negotiations could not proceed if building of settlements continued on the occupied West Bank because it would threaten the territorial integrity of the new state of Palestine.

"Negotiations cannot go with settlements," he said.