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Syria Praises Obama's Mideast Approach

Syria's Foreign Minister Walid Moallem on Tuesday praised President Obama's pledge to pursue a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians as "positive," but warned the real test for the new American leader's approach in the Middle East was yet to come.

In an encompassing address to the Turkish parliament Monday — aimed squarely at the Muslim world — Mr. Obama reiterated his call for a negotiated solution to the decades-old conflict in Israel, saying it must result in the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Mr. Obama also called on Turkey to help broker successful talks between Syria and Israel.

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A day-by-day guide to one of the most closely watched presidential trips in recent memory.

Mr. Obama's remarks came on the closing leg of an eight-day tour of Europe, in which he made Turkey the last stop, in part to deliver a symbolic statement about bridging the divide between east and west after the "mistrust" which developed during the presidency of George W. Bush.

"We welcome the positive speech which indicates a clear inclination towards a two-state solution, including a viable Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital," Moallem told CBS News on the sidelines of a two-day Alliance of Civilization Conference in Istanbul.

"The speech reflects Washington's encouragement for a lasting peace settlement on all tracks and signals the importance of the Turkish role in this respect, unlike the position of President Bush who was against the resumption of indirect talks between Syria and Israel," said Moallem.

(AP Photo/Bassem Tellawi)
But, Moallem (at left) cautioned, "We still need to know the nature of the relationship between the new U.S. administration and the Israeli radical, right-wing government which is rejecting the two-state solution, international resolutions and the Arab peace initiative."

Mr. Obama urged Israel and the Palestinians to "live up to the commitments they have made." It was an apparent reproach to the Israeli government, which said last week it was not bound by a U.S.-backed deal brokered in Annapolis in 2007 to start negotiations on establishing a Palestinian state.

U.S. special envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell was set to visit the region next week to reinvigorate the peace process, which has been stalled since Israel's land and air invasion of the Gaza Strip last December. The siege left some 1,300 Palestinians dead and brought condemnation from around the Muslim world.

It will be Mitchell's third visit to the region since being named special envoy by President Obama in late January. As on his previous visits, he was not expected to include Damascus on his travel agenda.

"I have no information Mr. Mitchell requested to come. If he does, he is most welcome. He said earlier he wants to come to Syria and he is destined to come, now or later," Muallem told CBS News.

According to a Turkish official, who spoke to CBS News on condition of anonymity, Washington has been reluctant to open up toward Syria until its leaders commit to disengaging from Tehran, as well as from anti-Israeli Palestinian and Lebanese groups listed in Washington as "terrorist" organizations.

However, several high-profile U.S. officials have visited Damascus this year, as the Obama administration pursues a policy of engagement with Syria, ending years of isolation under George W. Bush.

(AP Photo/Eric Feferberg)
U.S. representatives Stephen Lynch, a Democrat, and Republican Bob Inglis were the last to meet Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (at left) on Sunday. The two expressed optimism that the U.S. and Syria could work together to advance their common interests in the region.

Last month, Assad praised Mr. Obama in an interview he gave to Italian newspaper La Republica as a man of his word who was honoring his promises.

Assad and his foreign minister have repeatedly asked for U.S. involvement in brokering Syria-Israel peace negotiations, which started indirectly last May in Istanbul and which Damascus cut off after Israel's 22-day attack on Gaza.

Neither side has ruled out a resumption of the talks, which focused on the future of the occupied Golan Heights.

Observers say Syria, which has good relations with a broad range of actors in the Palestinian, Iraqi and Lebanese political scenes, could contribute a lot to any international push to build a stable peace in the region.

"Syria is a reasonable player that has no history of anti-Americanism. Syria can help in moderating Iranian behavior, and the Syrians have already offered to mediate between the U.S. and Iran on the nuclear issue," said Sami Moubayed, a Syrian political analyst.

"Engagement with Iran, restoration of the peace process, and an honorable exit from Iraq are all talking points that can bring the presidents of Syria and the U.S. together," he suggested.

The Syrian Foreign Minister said he was meeting Iranian President Ahmadi Najad in Tehran on Wednesday.

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