June 9th, 2009
01:51 PM ET
13 years ago

Mideast envoy Mitchell headed to Syria, State Dept. says

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/06/09/art.mitchell.0609.gi.jpg caption="U.S. Mideast envoy George Mitchell will spend two days in Syria this weekend."]

WASHINGTON (CNN) - U.S. Mideast envoy George Mitchell will spend two days in Syria this weekend as part of the Obama administration's effort to jump-start comprehensive peace efforts in the region, the State Department said

Mitchell is already in Israel and plans to visit Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority, and Lebanon before heading to Damascus, State
Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters. Mitchell's visit is a follow-up to President Barack Obama's speech to the Muslim world last week in Cairo, Egypt, and part of his policy to pursue a "broad-based, comprehensive peace dealing with all the regional players."

"This is a very high priority," Kelly said.

U.S.-Syrian ties have been strained in recent years over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the ongoing political
struggle between pro- and anti-Syrian factions in Lebanon. The United States has not had an ambassador in Damascus since 2005.

But Mitchell's visit is part of a series of actions that could pave the way for dramatically improved relations between the two countries. The Obama administration also believes engaging the Syrian regime will weaken Syria's strategic alliance with Iran.

The State Department said last week that Mitchell's trip will be followed by other U.S. missions - including a delegation of U.S. military commanders who will discuss joint efforts to combat the Iraqi insurgency, officials said.

The visits were sealed in a telephone call last week between U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Mouallem, the officials said.

Jeffrey Feltman - an assistant secretary of state who is the department's top official on the Middle East - and National Security Council
official Daniel Shapiro traveled to Damascus twice in recent months in an effort to improve ties with Syria.

The talks, which have been the start of more regular contacts between Washington and Damascus through normal diplomatic channels, focused in part on getting Syria to seal its border with Iraq. Washington has criticized Damascus for turning a blind eye to foreign fighters traveling through the country into Iraq.

The United States also wants Syrian support in achieving a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace agreement, and it appears willing to nurture indirect peace talks between Syria and Israel that began last year over the disputed Golan Heights. Those talks were suspended after Israel's three-week offensive in the Gaza Strip that ended in mid-January.

Damascus wants the United States to become involved if the talks resume. And Washington is interested in getting Damascus to use its influence with the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which Syria views as a legitimate resistance movement and whose leaders take refuge in Syria.

In another sign of reconciliation, officials have said the United States is considering reappointing an ambassador to Syria. A charge d'affaires has been the highest-level American diplomat in Damascus since 2005. The United States also is interested in building a new embassy in Damascus, and Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security Eric Boswell recently traveled to Syria to examine the security situation there.

The United States withdrew its ambassador from Syria four years ago in protest at the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Washington accuses Syria of being behind the killing of the popular statesman in a massive bombing that also left 22 others dead.

Syria denies it, but an ongoing United Nations investigation has found indications of Syrian involvement.

Filed under: George Mitchell • State Department
soundoff (20 Responses)
  1. Steve

    It's the TRUTH> People warship this guy like he is a god. Nice to see someone out there speaking the TRUTH!

    June 9, 2009 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  2. JP

    Clearly Israel is more interested in expanding its borders then having peace with the palestinians.

    June 9, 2009 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  3. David

    Nothing good can come of this. Mitchell is a snake. he is a CFR cronie. He is a lapdog for the elite.

    June 9, 2009 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  4. Gary

    The region is a mess. Isreal needs to put u a huge wall, a buffer zone and defend it and then move on.

    A separate free palastine can then work on improving their economy rather than fighting all the time.

    Hamas and Hezbollah only harm the palastinian people they do not help. Terrorism doesn't work. It doesn't make things better for anyone. If they got rid of H&H they would flourish and someday be best friends with Isreal.

    June 9, 2009 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  5. I laugh at Limbaugh daily

    George Mitchell will do a great job.We have Limbaugh on the ropes and Rush may blow a fuse anyday if were lucky.

    June 9, 2009 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  6. J.P.

    Eff the nonsensical "two-state solution."

    Want peace in the Middle East?

    Two words:
    Unleash Israel

    Five-thousand-years of recorded human history have shown that peace can never be "negotiated." Rather, it must be begged for by the loser.

    June 9, 2009 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  7. Dawn in Pa

    And all we are saying....IS GIVE PEACE A CHANCE!

    Is that so wrong? Absolutely not... since my generation was all about peace and the rhetoric of being in a war that had nothing the United States was interested in, well maybe Siamese cats....

    Peace in the MIddle East was another saying back in the 70's, go into the Bible, the Middle East has always been and always will be a "HOT SPOT" and to send in someone who can help make this happen. I apply SOS Hillary Clinton for being one of the best to get things moving... Whether you send in an envoy to settle disputes, to bring the proverbial white dove with the olive branch, than I say Kudos for the Obama administration.

    June 9, 2009 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  8. yuri

    One of the thankless federal jobs is the one that is concerned with mendin' fences with a pseudo-adversary, to avert mishaps. A bit of cobblin' job-we reckon, actually, really.

    June 9, 2009 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  9. Fort Lauderdale

    Mr. Mitchell should consider jump-starting peace negotiations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan where we are the perpetrators and provocateurs of endless bloody conflict that dwarfs anything the Israeli/Palestinian conflict has seen EVER. No wonder Mr. Mitchell is wearing dark glasses. He is hiding the log in his own eye that is so big, he can't see but he doesn't want Syria, Israel or the Palestinian Authority to see it. Believe me, they see it.

    June 9, 2009 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  10. Obama Victim

    we surrender

    June 9, 2009 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  11. S Callahan

    What a task ahead you have Mr. Mitchell....God's speed to you...
    Remember, under no circumstance can Jerelsalum be sacrficed...

    June 9, 2009 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  12. Gary D.

    Israel : Settlements are ILLEGAL, according to Geneva Convention. No territory acquired in war is valid. Suck on it or don't count on our taxes to subsidize them.

    June 9, 2009 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  13. Allen, Houston

    That's diplomacy and American power at work. Something the last administration knew nothing about.

    June 9, 2009 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  14. Shari, NY

    I must commend the efforts of this administration to heal the wounds of Mideast strife over the years. Four years of malice cannot help America in the global arena. Pakistanis, sick and tired of Taliban forces seem to be taking some action; loud-mouthed leftist Latin American leaders are toning down their rhetoric. Yes, the steps are modest ones but if the trend continues for the remainder of this administration's tenure, good things might just come to those who wait. Peace!

    June 9, 2009 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  15. phoenix86

    A terribly weak President sends an incredibly weak envoy to Syria. I can already hear the laughter from Damascus and Tehran.

    June 9, 2009 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  16. LIP

    Mitchell is a good person and will do a good job. Meanwhile, why not send Gore to North Korea so he can accept responsibility for his employees standing on the North Korean dirt? Seems only fair, having not heard a peep from him.

    June 9, 2009 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  17. MH

    TO Our President:
    Change the culture in Washington by recognizing and acting upon the fact that the U.S.-Israel relationship is harming this country by keeping us, in the eyes of much of the Muslim world, closely tied with and supporting an occupier, oppressor and perpetrator of war crimes against the Palestinian people. Israel benefits from a destabilized Middle East (peace with its neighbors will not keep money and arms flowing to the Jewish state) but we do not. When we give unqualified support to this aggression in the form of cash and the sophisticated weapons used to crush the Palestinians, we are complicit in these crimes, and rightly considered to blame. Please have the moral and political courage to stand down the Israel-first forces, including those within your own administration, and reconsider the wisdom of maintaining this blind and detrimental relationship with Israel.

    June 9, 2009 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  18. @BigMisterC

    I cannot see how the right can complain about this in any sense. It's about time that America stood up and assumed the mantle of leadership that the rest of the world expects from us. It's refreshing to actually see Middle East peace taken seriously in the beginning of a president's tenure and not tackled at the last minute in hopes of attaining something for their legacy or in hopes of a Nobel Prize... It seems that for the first time since the 70's the US is approaching this issue with the seriousness that it deserves.

    June 9, 2009 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  19. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    I have no problem with Mitchell going to Syria. I just want the Syrians to understand that they need to stop supporting Hezbola and other groups that attack Israel.

    June 9, 2009 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  20. LIP

    Most of these bloggers just keep pointing the political finger back and forth. The reality of all this is that every U.S.President came into office with good intentions, but when you have Israel expanding into territory it won during the six year war and Hamas launching rockets, clearly these people don't want an end to the conflict and would prefer an existance of revenge until the very end. This is what their civilization (?) was built on and this is what they want. Imagine peace between all these people that haved been killing each other ever since the first stone was cast. Can't imagine it, can you.

    June 9, 2009 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |