Seeking dialogue with Damascus, three visiting U.S. Republican lawmakers on Sunday held talks with Syrian leaders on Syrian-American ties and the latest developments in the region, particularly in Iraq.
Frank Wolf, Joe Pitts, and Robert Aderholt, members of the U.S. House of Representatives who arrived here on Saturday, met and held talks separately with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem.
In a statement issued by the U.S. embassy in Damascus, the legislators said they believed that there was an opportunity for dialogue with Syria on Mideast regional issues.
"We came because we believe there is an opportunity for dialogue. We are following in the lead of Ronald Reagan, who reached out to the Soviets during the Cold War," said the statement.
The U.S. legislators revealed that they had told Assad to prevent anti-U.S. militants from infiltrating into Iraq.
"We raised the issue of stopping foreign fighters who are killing American soldiers and innocent Iraqis from entering Iraq through Syria," they said.
The two sides also talked about "ending support for Hezbollah and Hamas, recognizing Israel's right to exist in peace and security, and ceasing interfering in Lebanon," according to the statement.
Meanwhile, Muallem also called for dialogue with Washington, saying that dialogue between the two sides was important "to reach common denominators that would help finding solutions to the standing crises in the region".
According to the official SANA news agency, the foreign minister also expressed Syria's readiness to continue efforts to ensure security and stability in the region.
The lawmaker's visit was the latest by U.S. politicians to a country accused by the White House of supporting terrorism, which followed a trip by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration Ellen Sauerbrey three weeks ago.
It also came before a planned visit here by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who is expected to lead a delegation of members of Congress and arrives in Damascus on Tuesday.
The move, criticized by the White House as "a really bad idea", would make Pelosi the highest-ranking U.S. figure to visit Syria in years.
Relations between Washington and Damascus have been strained since 2003 as Syria strongly objected the U.S. invasion of Iraq and blamed the U.S.-led occupation for the turbulences in the country ever after.
Washington, on the contrary, accused Damascus of doing little to stop weapons and militants from infiltrating into Iraq and destabilizing situation there.
U.S.-Syrian ties further deteriorated following the assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri in February 2005, after which Washington withdrew its ambassador to Damascus for its alleged role in the killing.
Syria denied any involvement in the murder although a UN probe has implicated senior Syrian officials in the case.
Washington, which had since refused high-level contacts with Damascus, has been under pressure to engage directly with Syria to help quiet down upgrading turmoil in Iraq.
The U.S. bipartisan Iraq Study Group has urged the Bush administration to engage in talks with Syria and Iran over Iraq. However, the White House has largely ignored the suggestion.