William J. Burns
Under Secretary for Political Affairs
Damascus, Syria
February 17, 2010

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UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I'm here to convey President Obama's continuing interest in building better relations with Syria based upon mutual interest and mutual respect. Syria plays an important role in the Middle East and this is a moment in which both Syria and the United States, despite our differences, have a stake in exploring ways in which we might cooperate. I had quite productive and extensive discussions with President Assad. We talked candidly about areas in which we disagree, but also identified areas of common ground on which we can build. The White House announced yesterday that Robert Ford will be the next American ambassador to Syria if he is confirmed by the U.S. Senate. That is a clear sign, after five years without an American ambassador in Damascus, of America's readiness to improve relations, and to cooperate in the pursuit of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace between Arabs and Israelis with progress on all tracks of the peace process and in the pursuit of regional peace and stability. To deepen our dialogue as we move forward, Ambassador Dan Benjamin, the State Department's coordinator for counter-terrorism, will remain here for another day of meetings. I have no illusions about the challenges on the road ahead, but my meeting with President Assad leaves me hopeful that we can make progress together in the interests of both of our countries. Thank you very much.