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Syria Extends Informal Invitation to Obama

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is praising U.S. President Barack Obama and says he would like to "welcome" the U.S. leader to Syria.

Syria's state-run news agency, SANA, says the Syrian leader sent a congratulatory telegram to President Obama to mark the July 4 Independence Day holiday. The telegram complimented Mr. Obama on the values he has adopted, saying they are the values that the world needs today.

Mr. Assad also extended an informal invitation to the U.S. president during an interview with Sky News, broadcast late Thursday. The Syrian leader said the U.S. "has a special role as the greatest power," but that the timing of a meeting depends on President Obama.

The Syrian leader also said that while he and Mr. Obama may not agree on everything, he said "this is how we can close the gap."

Washington has long accused Damascus of supporting groups like Hamas that the U.S. considers terrorist organizations. It also has voiced concern about Syria's human rights record and its role in neighboring Lebanon. But recent developments suggest the relationship between the U.S. and Syria may be thawing.

The U.S. announced last week that it plans to reinstate its ambassador to Syria after a four-year absence. A White House spokesman said the move reflects the administration's hope of the role that the Syrian government can play constructively, to promote peace and stability in the region.

Last month, U.S. envoy George Mitchell met with President Assad in Damascus for discussions on Middle East peace efforts.

Mitchell described the talks as serious and productive, and said Syria has an integral role to play in U.S. efforts to secure a comprehensive peace in the Middle East.