DAMASCUS, Syria, April 29 (UPI) -- Washington could employ soft diplomacy in the Middle East by courting Damascus in an effort to moderate the regional behavior of Iran, analysts said.
Damascus has moved in recent months to reverse its policy of isolation, appointing an ambassador to Beirut and signing economic measures with Baghdad.
Syrian President Bashar Assad told the media recently he hoped to meet with his American counterpart Barack Obama.
"In principle, it would be a very positive signal," he told an Italian newspaper, according to a column in Gulf News.
But he added, "I'm not after a souvenir photo. I hope I can see him to talk."
Meanwhile, Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., led a congressional delegation to Damascus to discuss improving ties with Washington while praising Syrian efforts to respect Lebanese independence.
As a sign of thawing relations, Damascus has also moved to open the American Language Center, which was closed following a cross-border raid from U.S. military forces in Iraq in October.
If Washington can manage to restore relations with Damascus, Sami Moubayed writes in a column for Gulf News, authorities in the Syrian capital can go a long way toward efforts to moderate Iranian behavior in the region as part of Obama's new engagement strategy.
Damascus has already offered to help in negotiations with the Iranian nuclear program, and if the Obama strategy fails to produce results, a friend in Assad may help achieve that goal.