State-run media in Syria called on the United States on Monday to begin a direct dialogue with the country, a day after an influential U.S. lawmaker said Washington could "bridge the gap" between Israel and Syria.
U.S. Senator Arlen Specter held talks with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus on Sunday and said the Arab leader was ready to make peace with Israel but needed Washington's help.
The Syrian state-run newspaper Al-Thawra called on the U.S. on Monday to build on the recent Mideast peace conference it sponsored in Annapolis, Maryland, by reaching out directly to Damascus.
Washington "should be the most daring party to relaunch overt negotiations without hesitation," the paper said. "The U.S. has a big role, which is still the most capable role to push the peace process forward."
In 2000, formal U.S.-sponsored Israel-Syria talks neared agreement but broke down over final border and peace arrangements. Syria demands the full return of the Golan Heights, the territory seized by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war.
The relationship between the U.S. and Syria deteriorated after the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in a car bombing. Washington pulled its ambassador out of the country over suspected Syrian involvement in the attack, which Damascus denies.
The U.S. has also criticized Syria for not doing enough to prevent militants from crossing its border into Iraq _ although American officials have said recently that Damascus has stepped up its efforts.
The relationship appeared to warm briefly following Syria's agreement to attend the Annapolis conference after the U.S. added the Golan Heights to the agenda. Syria's participation was widely seen as an attempt to gain favor with Washington.
But both sides have since lashed out at one another, each accusing the other of meddling in Lebanon, where the Western-backed government is locked in a political standoff with the pro-Syrian opposition. The U.S. also disapproves of Damascus' support for anti-Israel militant groups and alliance with Iran.
Two weeks ago, U.S. President George W. Bush rejected dialogue with the Syrian leader, saying his "patience ran out on President Assad a long time ago."
The Syrian state-run Tishrin newspaper criticized the Bush administration Monday for its persistent "stubbornness and provocation, a matter which will lead to more dangers in the region."
The paper praised congressman like Specter, a Republican from Pennsylvania, who it said visit Syria "contrary to the desires of the U.S. administration to open channels of contact and dialogue with Syria."
Rep. Patrick Kennedy, a Rhode Island Democrat, accompanied Specter on his two-day visit to Syria.
"During all these visits, the U.S. lawmakers have felt a clear Syrian desire for dialogue and exchange points of view for (the sake of) the region's stability," Tishrin said.