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US Envoy Says Syria Integral to Mideast Peace

U.S. envoy George Mitchell says Syria has an integral role to play in U.S. efforts to secure a comprehensive peace deal in the Middle East.

Mitchell made the comments Saturday after talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus.

The envoy said both the U.S. and Syria are "well aware of the many difficulties" in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but both countries share an obligation to create conditions for negotiations to begin "promptly and successfully."

Mitchell arrived in the Syrian capital Friday, the latest stop on a Middle East tour aimed at reviving the stalled Middle East peace process.

The visit also is the latest effort by U.S. President Barack Obama's administration to try and defuse tensions and restart diplomacy with Syria.

Washington has long accused Damascus of supporting groups like Hamas that the U.S. considers terrorist organizations. The United States also has voiced concern about Syria's human rights record and its role in neighboring Lebanon.

The U.S. has not had an ambassador in Syria since Syrian officials were implicated in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Syria has denied involvement in the assassination.

Mitchell traveled to Syria from Beirut, where he assured leaders a Middle East peace agreement will not come at Lebanon's expense.

Mitchell also praised Lebanon's recent parliamentary election, calling the vote an important milestone for the country. A U.S.-backed coalition retained its majority in Sunday's closely fought election.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.