President Talabani directs dialogue with the Syrian brothers

Syria's official press on Tuesday praised the Iraqi president's call for dialogue with Damascus, saying Jalal Talabani's remarks were particularly welcome in view of the criticism from the U.S. and Iraqi governments.

In an interview published Monday in the pan-Arab newspaper Al Hayat, President Talabani said he favors "direct dialogue with the Syrian brothers." He added he had sent three envoys to Syrian President Bashar Assad to "solve our differences in a brotherly manner" and the response had been positive in general.

Syria's state-run Al-Thawra newspaper quoted the interview in an editorial on Tuesday, and commented: "The statement is very significant under the current circumstances." It was "positive, especially as it comes following U.S. and Iraqi baseless accusations against Syria."

The U.S. and Iraqi governments have recently stepped up their criticism of Syria, accusing it of doing too little to stop militants from crossing into Iraq to join the insurgency. U.S. President George W. Bush warned last week that Assad must understand the United States "takes his lack of action (on stopping insurgents) seriously." He accused Syria of opposing the establishment of democracy in Iraq.

Al-Thawra said dialogue was a basic Syrian demand, adding that Syria "is greatly concerned about the Iraqi situation and is ready to discuss all issues that could help the Iraqi people." Meanwhile, Assad briefed a delegation of American anti-war academics on Syria's position toward peace, terrorism and Iraq, Syria's official news agency reported. SANA said Assad also discussed strained Syrian-U.S. relations as well as Arab, regional and international developments.

Assad discussed the "challenges" facing Syria with a delegation of the Arab Lawyers Union, SANA said. It added that the lawyers expressed "full solidarity" with Syria in the face of international pressure on it. The United States has imposed economic sanctions on Syria, long on the State Department list of state sponsor of terrorism.

Syria is under growing U.S.-led pressure and Washington tries to isolate Damascus to make it respond to a list of demands ranging from stopping the influx of militants into Iraq to staying out of Lebanese politics to stopping support of militant Palestinian groups based in Damascus. Syria has repeatedly denied it is allowing foreign fighters to cross to Iraq but says it is impossible to control the more than 600-kilometer (360-mile) desert border, AP reports.

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