Syria wants dialogue with US on Lebanon crisis


Syria is willing to engage in dialogue with the United States to solve the confrontation between Hizbullah and Israel, Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal Mekdad said today.

"Syria is ready for dialogue with the United States based on respect and mutual interests," he told Reuters in an interview.

Mekdad, an influential player in Syrian foreign policy, said Syria could "facilitate communication" to help end the crisis but that Hizbollah made its own decisions.

US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton said it was "hard to see" benefits from a Syrian-American dialogue and repeated US calls for Syria to pressure Hizbullah to release two Israeli soldiers and stop targeting Israel with rockets.

Hizbullah fighters captured the two soldiers in a cross border operation on July 12, sparking Israeli reprisals that have killed around 365 people in Lebanon, mostly civilians.

Diplomats said Syria was unlikely to pressure Hizbullah to release the soldiers and disarm, as demanded by Western powers and a UN resolution, unless Damascus is guaranteed a role in any settlement that could help it regain its own occupied land.

Mekdad said the immediate solution to the conflict lies in a ceasefire brokered by international powers to be followed by diplomacy to address Hizbullah's demands, including a prisoner exchange and the return of Shebaa Farms.

"Israel has held some of these people in captivity for around 40 years. Releasing them fulfils a requirement of international law," he said.