Clinton meets with Syria to push talks with Israel

Hillary Rodham Clinton met with the Syrian foreign minister and discussed reviving Israeli-Syrian peace talks.

The U.S. secretary of state met with Walid Muallem on the sidelines of the launching of this year’s U.N. General Assembly, the signature annual event that brings together foreign ministers otherwise not inclined to meet one on one.

“The secretary affirmed our objective of comprehensive peace in the Middle East, which includes the Syrian track,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said in a conference call with reporters. “Foreign Minister Muallem was very interested in pursuing that, and there was a pledge that we would develop some ideas going forward on how to proceed.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he is not interested in reviving talks with Syria where they left off under his predecessor, Ehud Olmert. Those talks, mediated by Turkey, operated under the assumption that Israel would return the entire Golan Heights, the strategic plateau captured by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War, should a comprehensive peace be secured.

Netanyahu says he will only restart talks with no preconditions and has suggested that he is not willing to return the entire Golan.

Syria’s official news agency, Sana, described the Clinton-Muallem meeting as “very constructive.”

The Obama administration has kept in place most of the sanctions imposed on Syria by President George W. Bush, but is seeking to return a U.S. ambassador to Damascus. That nomination is held up in the Senate. — jta