'Israel Pressing U.S. Not to Send New Envoy to Syria'

A-Sharq Al-Awsat: Israel made request in the wake of tripartite talks between Iran, Syria, Hezbollah.

Israel is urging the United States to freeze its decision to send a new envoy to Syria, in the wake of this week's tripartite meeting between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Syrian President Bashar Assad and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, according to a report Saturday in London-based Arabic daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat.

According to the report, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and an aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu both made the request during meetings with U.S. officials in Washington this week.

The report added that Israeli officials made the request after witnessing Assad's public defiance of U.S. calls to curb its ties with Iran this week. Assad said his long-standing alliance with Tehran remains strong despite overtures from Washington intended to shift his loyalties. With Ahmadinejad by his side, Assad told America not to dictate relationships in the Middle East.

"I find it strange how they talk about Middle East stability and at the same time talk about dividing two countries," Assad told reporters when asked about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's call on Wednesday for Syria to move away from Iran. Taking a further swipe at Clinton, he said that perhaps he and Ahmadinejad had misunderstood, due to a translation error or their own limited understanding.

In a show of unity, the two signed an agreement canceling travel visas between their countries.

The report also said that Israeli officials said Syria had interpreted the appointment of a new U.S. envoy as a sign of weakness on Washington's part, and not as a decision to improve ties between the two countries.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday said that the recent decision to send an ambassador to Syria did not mean American concerns about that country have been addressed.

Speaking to lawmakers in Washington, Clinton said the nomination of career diplomat Robert Ford signaled a slight opening with Syria.

But she said the administration remained troubled by Syria's alleged support for militant groups in Iraq and elsewhere, interference in Lebanon and close relationship with Iran.