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Syrian President Wants Better Ties With US

Syria says President Bashar al-Assad has told a visiting U.S. senator that he wants to improve Syria's long-tense relationship with the United States.

The official SANA news agency says Mr. Assad's talks Wednesday with U.S. Senator Benjamin Cardin focused on the importance of developing ties and dialogue between the two countries.

President Assad also was quoted in Britain's Guardian newspaper Wednesday as saying he expects U.S. President Barack Obama to send an ambassador back to Damascus soon.

In an interview with the paper, Mr. Assad said he hopes for a new relationship with the United States now that the administration of former President George W. Bush is over.

He said he is encouraged by what he called "good gestures" coming from the Obama administration, but he added, "We are still in the period of gestures and signals. There is nothing real yet."

The Syrian president said he hopes Washington will act as the "main arbiter" in the Middle East peace process. He said "there is no substitute for the United States."

U.S.-Syrian relations deteriorated during the Bush administration, which withdrew its ambassador to Damascus in 2005 and accused Syria of allowing militants to cross its border into Iraq.

But the Obama administration appears to be taking tentative steps toward resuming dialogue with Syria.

Senator Cardin is a member of the influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee. His visit to Damascus comes days before the committee's chairman, Senator John Kerry, is expected to visit Syria on his own Middle East tour.

The senators are traveling in connection with their work on the committee, and not as emissaries of President Obama's administration.

Kerry's spokesman, Frederick Jones, told VOA the senator advocates engaging Syria to persuade it to play a productive role in the Middle East.

Senator Kerry arrived in Lebanon Wednesday for talks with Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora and other senior officials.

The U.S. withdrew its ambassador to Damascus following the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Syria was widely blamed for the murder but has denied involvement.

Syria's relationship with the world community improved last year after it supported a peace deal to end factional fighting in Lebanon.