Khaled Dessouki/AFP/Getty Images
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice listens to a presentation at an international conference on Iraq.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett sit at an international conference on Iraq. Khaled Dessouki/AFP/Getty Images
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice held the first ministerial-level meeting with Syria in more than two years Thursday. Rice says she pressed Syria on securing its border with Iraq, while Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem urged that a U.S. ambassador return to Damascus.
Rice and Moualem are attending a conference on Iraq in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.
Rice also briefly exchanged words with Iran's top diplomat.
After the meeting with Rice, Moualem made brief comments to reporters, calling the talks constructive and transparent.
"We discussed two issues," Moualem said, "Iraq, security and stability in Iraq, and how to tackle our bilateral relations."
In the clearest signal yet that Syria is interested in repairing relations with the United States, Moualem raised the issue of the return of America's ambassador to his country.
Margaret Scobie was ordered back to Washington following an explosion in Beirut that killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and more than 20 others. U.N. investigators have implicated Syrian officials in that blast, something Damascus denies.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that Rice made clear that future bilateral relations would depend on concrete signs that Syria was actively engaged in pacifying Iraq.
Whether coincidentally or not, in Baghdad Thursday, Maj. Gen. William Caldwell took note of improvements in the Syrian border situation.
"There has been a reduction in the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq for more than a month," Caldwell said.
The new U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, said that while that is good news, a single month is not a reliable trend.