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“We are unhappy to see ourselves demonized whatever we do,” he said. “At the end of the game, you cannot succeed in Syria if the perception is you are not trying to change our behavior but change our regime.”

Still, he argued Syrian officials recognize they need the United States to be active in the region, as a guarantor of any deal with Israel and as the only power capable of filling the security gap in the region’s interlocking crises from Iraq and Iran to Lebanon and the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

Mr. al-Taki said the prospect of a new U.S. president next year was grounds for some optimism.

“Whether it is Obama or McCain, the good news is that no one can pursue the policies that President Bush tried first. It’s already a stuck policy,” he said.

“Anyone who comes next will have to have a different approach.”