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Syria 'ready to help,' officials say

DAMASCUS, Syria, June 11 (UPI) -- Syria expressed frustration with U.S.-imposed sanctions as Washington pushes detente, but welcomed the opportunity to help restore regional relations.

Damascus has lobbied its neighbors, including Turkey and Iraq, in recent months in an effort to re-engage the regional community. U.S. President Barack Obama, for his part, has advocated a policy of detente as part of a push to restore America's image, which some critics say was tarnished by his predecessor George W. Bush.

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Washington's top envoy to the region, former Sen. George Mitchell, is expected in Damascus this weekend, rounding up a series of high-profile visits that included U.S. Sen. John Kerry and other top diplomats.

Damascus, however, has expressed frustration over engagement efforts coupled by the renewal of punitive economic sanctions.

"I am very eager to see a real improvement in our relations with Washington," said Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem in an interview with Foreign Affairs magazine. "But nothing has happened yet."

Moallem acknowledged the Washington sanction decision was based on Syrian support, along with Iran, for the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas.

"But it's very strange that you condemn me as a 'terrorist' at the same time as you call on me to help you combat terrorism in Iraq and elsewhere," he said, referring to Washington. "It doesn't make sense!"

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He noted, however, that Damascus was ready to step forward to act as a possible intermediary regarding Washington concerns over Iranian proxies and its controversial nuclear program.

"We are ready to help," he said.

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