Syria Eyes a New Start With America

President Assad moots direct talks with Israel, strategic pact
By Jason Farago,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 24, 2008 10:04 AM CST
A Syrian girl carries a banner as others hold a picture of Syrian President Bashar Assad during a sit-in in front of the UNICEF offices in Damascus, Syria, Thursday, Dec. 4, 2008.   (AP Photo/Ola Rifai)
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(Newser) – After years of frosty relations with George W Bush, the president of Syria is looking for a new diplomatic start with Barack Obama in 2009. In an interview with Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, Bashar al-Assad says he is willing to work with the United States to stabilize Iraq, and that he would consider direct talks with Israel in the future. "We can't turn the clock back," Assad said.

Earlier this decade Assad was a diplomatic outcast, accused of orchestrating the assassination of Lebanon's prime minister and supporting Hezbollah. Now, writes Ignatius, Assad is "in the catbird seat," courted by European and Arab leaders as a crucial middleman. "We have to talk about the future," said Assad. "We have to forge a process, a political vision, and a timetable for Iraqi withdrawal."