US officials head to Damascus Saturday for talks
US Acting Assistant Secretary for the Near East Jeffrey Feltman and another top US diplomat were to arrive later Saturday in Syria for what Feltman called a "long list" of concerns, dpa reported.
Feltman and Daniel Shapiro, senior director of the Middle East and North Africa Daniel Shapiro at the US National Security Council, were heading to Syria after leaving Beirut, where they held talks with senior Lebanese officials Friday.
"Our trip to Syria ... is an opportunity for us to start addressing these concerns and using engagement as a tool to promote our objectives in the region," Feltman told reporters in Beirut.
"I am carrying a message to the Syrians that the Lebanese alone should decide the fate of their country," Feltman said.
US-Syrian relations have long been tense.
Syria, amid local and international outcry, was forced to end its military presence in Lebanon on April 26, 2005 following the assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri. Damascus, suspected of complicity, has denied any involvement in the Hariri killing.
Syria's support for militant organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah has drawn criticism by Washington, which has also accused Syria of allowing foreign fighters to cross into Iraq.
In Lebanon, Feltman assured Lebanese officials that renewed ties with Syria would not affect the US stance towards Lebanon. "The US- Syrian dialogue won't be at Lebanon's expense," Feltman said.
Feltman said that US President Barack Obama has given a clear message that "engagement is a tool of our policy. The president has said he wants to sustain in principle engagement with all states in the region and that includes Syria."