WASHINGTON, May 6 (UPI) -- A visit by top U.S. officials to Damascus is expected to couple the Lebanese parliamentary elections with Syrian efforts at engagement, analysts said.
Presumptive Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs Jeffrey Feltman and National Security Council Senior Director Daniel Shapiro left Washington for Damascus on Tuesday "to discuss issues of mutual and regional concern," the U.S. State Department said.
The visit has dual objectives as Washington seeks to reverse the isolationist policies of previous U.S. President George W. Bush and Damascus pursues its own engagement strategy.
Feltman and Shapiro, who visited Damascus earlier in the year, are expected to press the issue of the Lebanese parliamentary elections in June as a test for the Syrian commitment of non-intervention following years of heavy-handed tactics in Beirut.
Mona Yacoubian, a former State Department official with the non-partisan U.S. Institute of Peace, tells the pan-Arab al-Hayat news agency that the Lebanese elections may be a "major milestone" for U.S.-Syria relations if they proceed "without any meddling" from Damascus.
Syrians, for their part, have pledged to respect the sovereignty of their southern neighbor but hoped Lebanon would be able to form a unity government regardless of the victor for the sake of regional solidarity.
Lebanon holds parliamentary elections June 7. The March 8 coalition, which includes the Lebanese Hezbollah, is expected to secure a majority over the pro-Western March 14 slate. Hezbollah has pledged, however, to seek a unified government.