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Syria willing to help on Palestinian unity: Kerry

Assad tells Kerry US should stop 'dictating' policy

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Syria indicated it is willing to help achieve a Palestinian unity government that could restart peace talks with Israel, the chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee John Kerry said on Saturday.

Syria, which is under U.S. sanctions, hosts the exiled leadership of Hamas and has influence on the Palestinian group.

"Syria could be, in fact, very helpful in helping to bring about a unity government," Kerry told reporters after meeting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

US Policy Change

Damascus expressed willingness to help deal with problems in Gaza and achieve a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Kerry stated.

Assad had emphasized Syria's desire to have a dialogue with the Obama administration after years of tension with the United States when George W. Bush was in power.

He told Kerry that the United States should "move away from a policy based on dictating decisions."

Assad added that the future relations should be based on a "proper understanding" by Washington of regional issues and on common interests, SANA news agency reported.

"Dialogue, based on the history of the region and the rights of its peoples, is the only way to understand and resolve problems," he said.

Both legislators underlined "Syria's active role" in the region and the importance of "developing dialogue between Damascus and Washington," SANA reported.

Dialogue, based on the history of the region and the rights of its peoples, is the only way to understand and resolve problems

Bashar al-Assad

"I believe very deeply that this is an important moment of change, a moment of potential transformation, not just in the relationship between the United States and Syria but in the relationship of the region," Kerry said.

But diplomats in Damascus cautioned that any thaw in relations between Syria and the United States might not be quick. They said Syria was showing no signs of abandoning support for Shiite group Hezbollah, or changing its relationship with Iran.

A strengthened alliance between the two countries has irritated Washington although Obama said the United States could open a dialogue with the Islamic Republic.

The administration of former U.S. president Bush repeatedly accused Damascus of turning a blind eye to the arming and funding of insurgents in neighboring Iraq and of supporting terrorism.

Washington withdrew its Damascus ambassador after the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafik al-Hariri in Beirut.

I believe very deeply that this is an important moment of change, a moment of potential transformation

John Kerry

Alleged nuclear program

The U.S. diplomatic flurry was overshadowed by the International Atomic Energy Agency's announcement on Thursday that it has found unexplained uranium particles at a remote desert site, Al-Kibar, in Syria.

Syria insists the uranium found at Al-Kibar came from Israeli missiles that blasted the site in September 2007.

"It's nuclear material that hasn't been declared and Syria has to explain," a senior IAEA official said.

On Friday Washington summoned the Syrian ambassador to express concerns over Damascus’ alleged nuclear program.