Agence France Presse (AFP)
July 27, 2009 - 12:00am

U.S. Middle East envoy George J. Mitchell held talks in Israel on Sunday after having a "candid and positive" discussion with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad amid a diplomatic push by Washington to restart stalled peace talks.

Washington is committed to a "comprehensive peace in the Middle East, and that includes Israel and Palestine, Israel and Syria, Israel and Lebanon, and normal relations with all countries in the regions," Defense Minister Ehud Barak's office quoted Mitchell as saying after the two held talks in Tel Aviv.

Earlier in the Syrian capital, Damascus, the former U.S. senator said that he had "just completed a very candid and positive conversation with President Assad."

"I discussed with President Assad the prospects for moving forward on our goals of comprehensive peace in the region and improved bilateral ties between Syria and the United States," he said.

On Monday, Mitchell is scheduled to meet Palestine Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, in the West Bank, and on Tuesday he is to hold talks with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, with discussions to focus on U.S. demands that Israel halt settlement activity in the occupied West Bank.

Netanyahu has refused to heed the calls, and the disagreement has led to a level in tensions not seen in years between the close allies.

Mitchell's latest trip to the region comes as part of a diplomatic push in which Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates will arrive for a one-day visit in Israel on Monday and national security adviser James L. Jones will make a three-day trip beginning Tuesday.

President Obama is determined to reach a comprehensive peace between Israel and all its Arab neighbors to promote "stability, security and prosperity" in the region, Mitchell said in Damascus.

"If we are to succeed, we will need Arabs and Israelis alike to work with us to bring about comprehensive peace.

"We will welcome the full cooperation of the government of the Syrian Arab Republic in this historic endeavor."


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