Syria: U.S. Can Keep it's Diplomatic Advice

Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman, right, and White House envoy for the Mideast Dan Shapiro, leaving the Syrian foreign ministry in Damascus, after talks with Syrian foreign minister Walid Moallem, March 7, 2009.
This story was filed by CBS News' George Baghdadi in Damascus.

Syria on Thursday slammed advice given by a senior U.S. diplomat as to how the Middle Eastern nation should manage relations with its neighbors and internal political groups, saying assistants secretary of state for Near East affairs Jeffery Feltman was suffering "illusions."

"Yes, Syria is concerned in the stability and security of Lebanon because this is a vital issue for the security and stability of Syria," a top Syrian official said in a statement released to state media. "Perhaps Mr. Feltman needs to realize the geographic and historical facts, that Syria is a friendly neighbor for Lebanon, whereas the United States is more than 10,000 miles away."

"It seems to us that Mr. Feltman still lives in his illusions and has not read yet the documents about his role in accusing Syria of assassinating former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Al-Hariri in 2005," the unidentified official said in the statement run by the state-controlled Syrian Arab News Agency.

Feltman told the Washington Post in an interview published Tuesday that Syria should pressure Iran and the Islamic militant group Hezbollah to curb their activities in Lebanon if wants to rebuild its relations with Washington.

Syrian and Iran enjoy close ties, and the leadership of Hezbollah, a major player in Mideast politics which is classified by the U.S. government as a terrorist organization, is based in Syria.

"Syria and the United States have taken some modest steps to see if we can improve the bilateral relationship," Feltman said. "But this cannot go very far as long as Syria's friends are undermining stability in Lebanon. We have made that absolutely clear to the Syrians. There is a cost to the potential in our bilateral relationship to what Syria's friends are doing in Lebanon."

The unnamed Syrian official offered some unsolicited advice in return on Thursday:

"One who cares about Lebanon's independence should not issue lists for boycotting Lebanese citizens that the U.S. is not satisfied with because they don't serve its interest."

"We don't need Mr. Feltman's advice, because Syria exercises its independent decision making to serve the interests of its people and the stability and security of the region," the official concluded.

Tensions have run high in Lebanon in recent weeks as a U.N.-mandated

tribunal nears completion of its investigation into the Hariri assassination.

The tribunal is expected to indict members of Hezbollah over the explosion which killed the former Lebanese leader.

The group's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, last week warned Lebanon against cooperating with the probe. Syria has also denounced the tribunal.

More on Syrian-U.S. relations:

Syria Blasts U.S. "Interference"
U.S.-Syria Relations: Rollercoaster Diplomacy
Syria Lashes Out at U.S. Over Missile Accusation


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