- The Washington Times - Monday, January 6, 2003

DAMASCUS, Syria, Jan. 6 (UPI) — Syria and the United States began Monday their second round of talks on political, economic, cultural and media relations.

The three-day closed session, sponsored by the James Baker Institute for Public Policy, comes six months after the first round of talks in the United States. Sources at the U.S. Embassy in Damascus refused to give details about the nature of the talks.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry said in a statement released Sunday that the dialogue came within the framework of "policies adopted by Syrian President Bashar Assad since he came to power, and based on establishing and supporting dialogue with countries wishing such a dialogue out of belief that it is the best way to solve all … issues."

The statement did not say who would represent Syria in the talks but Lebanon's As Safir newspaper said the delegation might include Deputy Foreign Minister and former Syrian Ambassador in Washington Walid al Muallem; head of the ministry's foreign media department Buthaina Shaaban; Dean of the Computer Engineering School Imad Mustafa, director of the History Department Khairiya Kassmiya; university professor Rima al Hakim and director of TV and Radio Riyadh Esmat.

The U.S. participants include Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa.; Edward Djerejian, director of the Baker Institute and a former U. S. ambassador to Syria; Christopher Ross, also a former U.S. ambassador in Damascus, as well as James Zogby, the head of the Arab-American Institute.

The first round of U.S.-Syrian talks, last May in Houston, focused on political, economic, security and media issues.

Syria and the United States have been engaged in close security cooperation since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington. Their political relations, however, have been marred by an exchange of criticism.

Some U.S. officials have accused Syria of nuclear cooperation with Russia and Syria has criticized Washington for its support of Israel over the Palestinians.

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