U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Murphy ended two-days of talks with Syrian President Hafez Assad Saturday, saying Washington and Damascus agreed on the importance of Lebanon holding its presidential elections on schedule next month.
Beirut radio said Murphy left Damascus for Israel on the third leg of a Middle East tour that began in Lebanon last Thursday. The journey is scheduled to end in Egypt next week.Murphy and the U.S. ambassador in Damascus, William Eagleton, held more than five hours of talks with Assad, the radio said. Syria's official media provided few details and appeared to be playing down the visit.
At a news conference at Damascus airport before his departure, Murphy described his talks with Assad as "fruitful and constructive," and said they covered "all complicated regional and international issues."
Murphy told reporters that the Syrians supported holding the presidential election in Lebanon as scheduled, the radio said.
"We all agreed that this would give a push to (Lebanese) national reconciliation," the senior U.S. diplomat was quoted as saying.
Murphy also criticized both the Arabs and Israelis for failing to hold peace talks ending their protracted conflict, the radio said. Syria, armed and backed by the Soviet Union, is a staunch enemy of the Jewish state.
The radio quoted Murphy as saying the talks, which dealt with "complicated international issues," would help "improve mutual understanding."
Damascus has strengthened its role as a regional power-broker by allying itself with Iran in its nearly eight year war with Iraq and through the deployment of thousands of troops in war-torn Lebanon since the Moslem-Christian civil war began in 1975.
In Beirut last Thursday, Murphy denied that his visit to Lebanon was designed to demonstrate that the U.S. was a force in the election, but reiterated Washington's eagerness for the elections to be held on time.
Washington and Damascus early this year cooperated in a bid to achieve some measure of political reconciliation in Lebanon to coincide with the election, but the efforts appeared to have failed so far.