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US Talks With Syria Would Help Mideast Peace -US’s Baker January 30, 2007

Posted by notapundit in US News, World News.

WASHINGTON (AP)–If President George W. Bush’s administration opened a dialogue with Syria it could remove a major roadblock to Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, Hamas’s refusal to recognize the Jewish state, former Secretary of State James A. Baker III said Tuesday.

Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Baker said the U.S. “could get them (Syria) to get Hamas to recognize Israel’s right to exist. It would be a huge step in the right direction.”

Hamas, which is designated a terrorist organization by the State Department and the European Union, dominates the Palestinian government through its election a year ago.

The Bush administration has been reluctant to talk to Syria, citing the country’s support for groups like Hamas.

Baker told the committee he had discussed the situation with senior Syrian officials on a trip to the country as co-chair of the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan panel that recommended several changes in Bush’s Iraq strategy. Most of the recommendations were passed over by the administration.

Baker said by talking with Syria, the U.S. also “could get them to stop arming Hezbollah,” a Lebanese militia backed by Iran that has a foothold in the Lebanese government and fought a war with Israel last summer.

The co-chair of the study group, former Rep. Lee Hamilton, said Syria has been “sending signals to us” that they want to talk to the U.S.

The study group recommended the Bush administration hold talks with Iran as well as Syria and other countries in the region as part of a diplomatic effort to end the fighting in Iraq.

Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, who held talks in Syria in December with President Bashar Assad and Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem, said “the administration has adopted the approach of an ostrich.”

“And make no mistake. It is not working,” he told the private Council on Foreign Relations.

Nelson said Assad had “indicated an interest” in discussing its border with Iraq. Nelsen said jihadists make their way into Iraq to fight U.S. troops.

Baker was secretary of State under Bush’s father, the first President George H.W. Bush.


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