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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Obama promised U.S. reconciliation with Syria

WASHINGTON — Presidential-elect Barack Obama has pledged to improve U.S. relations with Syria and Egypt.

Aides said Obama had sent senior foreign policy adviser Robert Malley to Egypt and Syria to outline the Democratic candidate's policy on the Middle East.

The aides said Malley, who served in the administration of President Bill Clinton, relayed a pledge from Obama that the United States would seek to reconcile with Damascus as well as enhance relations with Cairo.

The aide said Obama plans to launch a U.S. diplomatic initiative toward Syria, regarded by the Bush administration as a leading supporter of the Al Qaida insurgency in Iraq. Obama, unlike President George Bush, has also supported Israeli peace negotiations with the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

"The tenor of the messages was that the Obama administration would take into greater account Egyptian and Syrian interests," the aide said.

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Malley, the aides said, met both Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Syrian President Bashar Assad to explain Obama's platform. The aides said Obama signaled to Mubarak that the United States would maintain military and civilian aid and sell advanced F-16 aircraft to Cairo. Egypt has not ordered F-16s in nearly a decade.

Obama, himself, was also said to have met Arab leaders who arrived in the United States over the last three months. The aides said the leaders included Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

"Obama's message is that he strongly supports a Palestinian state," the aide said.

Obama aides said they would coordinate with the outgoing Bush administration. They said the presidential-elect supports an intensive final drive by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to conclude arrangements for a Palestinian state in the West Bank in 2009.

"Obama would prefer an engaged administration to use the next two months to work out any details that could be implemented next year when he enters office," the aide said.

Analysts said Obama would probably confront a Middle East crisis soon after entering office in January 2009. They said the most imminent crisis would be that of Iraq as well as the confrontation between Hamas and the PA.

[On Nov. 5, Hamas fired more than 35 Kassam-class missiles from the Gaza Strip into Israel in retaliation for an Israeli military operation the previous day. At least three people in the Israeli city of Ashkelon were injured.]

"The next U.S. president will face unprecedented challenges and dangers in the Middle East, with few good options and precious little time to waste," Michael Eisenstadt, senior fellow at the Washington Institute, said. "If the next president is to succeed in advancing American interests, he will need to engage the Middle East to an unprecedented degree, avert or deter the wars that can be avoided, and skillfully manage the one or more wars that are almost certain to occur on his watch."

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