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U.S. Talks In Syria Intensify

Two U.S. high-level envoys arrived in Damascus on Thursday for the second time in less than two months for talks with Syrian officials on how to seal best the Syrian border with Iraq and fuel the stalling Syrian-Israeli negotiations.

Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman and National Security Council Middle East affairs Senior Advisor Daniel Shapiro flew in and they were expected to meet with Syria's Foreign Minister Walid Al-Muallem in a few hours.

The Syrian chief of diplomacy is currently seeing his Finnish and Estonian counterparts who just met with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.

The one-day visit, which comes a couple of weeks ahead of a scheduled trip by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the States, is the latest sign of reconciliation between the two countries after years of tension.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem sat with the two officials in March for four hours as both sides tested the waters to see what concrete offers will emerge as the countries seek a closer rapprochement.

The Obama administration believes engaging the Syrian regime will weaken Syria's strategic alliance with Iran, but Syrian officials have repeatedly dismissed the idea, saying Damascus was more than willing to be a bridge between Washington and Tehran.

Assad, following his talks with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Tuesday in the Syrian capital, defended his country's alliance with Iran as "strategic," saying the vision they shared over the past years was "correct."

Syria seems more confident as it managed to break the international isolation, with barely a day goes by without a western politician or envoy knocking on Assad's palace door.

Damascus, which has great influence over two of Israel's main enemies — Hezbollah in neighboring Lebanon, and Hamas, whose leaders are based here in Damascus, has indicated that it seeks no further quarrel with Washington, even saying it would like the new administration to mediate stalled Syrian-Israeli peace talks to restore the Golan Heights, to end sanctions, and allow inflow of Western investment and technology.

Syria suspended its indirect talks with Israel to protest the Jewish state's three-week military operation in the Gaza Strip aimed at Hamas militants. The assault left about 1,300 Palestinians dead, half of them women and children, and some 5,000 more wounded.

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