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Optimism for Improved US-Syria Ties

The Syrian ambassador to the United States has called a meeting between Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice "significant." The two U.S. and Syrian officials met for about 30 minutes last Thursday on the sidelines of an Iraq stabilization conference in Egypt. VOA's Stephanie Ho has more on the story from Washington.

Following the highest-level meeting between Syria and the United States in several years, the Syrian ambassador to Washington, Imad Moustapha, told CNN Late Edition he could not give concrete details on the next steps. But he called last week's meeting between the Syrian foreign minister and Secretary Rice "a tipping point," or critical step, in U.S.-Syria bilateral relations.

"The symbolism of the meeting is significant," said Imad Moustapha. "Time and again, we have told the United States that it has to change its attitude toward Syria. Instead of talking past Syria, they have to talk to Syria."

He emphasized that Syria neighbors Iraq, and therefore sees Iraq's stability as a matter of Syrian national security. He said Damascus and Washington have a common interest in wanting to see a stable Iraq, which he added would create the conditions for U.S. troops to eventually leave the country.

"It is in our own national interest to end the violence in Iraq, stabilize Iraq, so the U.S. administration will not have a pretext to have its forces in Iraq anymore," he said.

Meanwhile, President Bush last month accused Syria of allowing suicide bombers to cross the Syrian border into Iraq to wage attacks that kill Iraqis and U.S. troops.

Baghdad's U.S. ambassador, Samir Mohamed Al-Sumaydi, who also appeared on CNN, agreed that foreign fighters are in Iraq, but stopped short of completely blaming Syria.

"I am not pointing the fingers against any particular country," said Samir Mohamed Al-Sumaydi. "But I am telling you that most of the suicide bombers are non-Iraqis, and I know they do not parachute into the country. They must come from somewhere."

He added that Iraq has noted Syria's efforts to, in his words, "stop the flow of terrorists and funds," and will watch to see if there are any concrete improvements on the ground in Iraq.

In Washington, U.S. lawmakers from both political parties were largely positive about U.S. efforts to talk to Syria. Democratic Senator Charles Schumer spoke on CNN.

"Talking to people, even people you vehemently disagree with, is a good thing," said Schumer. "Who knows? Maybe you can come to some sort of agreement."

On the same program, Republican Senator Richard Lugar called the meeting timely.

"I am delighted that at least a format has been provided in which the Secretary sees the Syrians," said Lugar. "It was too bad the Iranian foreign minister came to dinner early and left, almost tried to evade our Secretary of State."

A U.S. official said the Iranian foreign minister complained that a red dress worn by an entertainer was too revealing, and abruptly left a dinner at the Iraq conference. He was to have been seated directly opposite Secretary Rice.

In Tehran Sunday, Iran's foreign ministry said the country is willing to improve its chilly relations with the United States, despite having passed up last week's opportunity for direct talks.