U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Asian Affairs Jeffrey Feltman announced that his visit to the Syrian capital was part of U.S. efforts to "protect a democratic Lebanon."
He met with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem for four hours on March 7. It was the first visit meeting for a U.S. official at this level in the four years since the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri after which the U.S. recalled its ambassador, souring U.S.-Syrian relations.
The meeting addressed ways to improve relations between the two countries. Feltman also expressed the U.S. desire to "see forward momentum in peace talks between Syria and Israel at a time when both parties are ready for that". He pointed out that, "Reaching comprehensive peace including an agreement between the two sides is the goal of the Obama administration." He expressed the view that "Syria can help stabilise the Middle East."
Before visiting Damascus, Feltman visited Beirut, telling senior officials there he would "carry a message to Syrian officials that the Lebanese people alone should be responsible for the destiny of their homeland and the U.S. wants to see the implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701." He also said, "We have a long list of things that concern us about Syria … and I expect that Syria has some things that they are concerned about regarding us."
Feltman, a former U.S. ambassador in Lebanon who supported the March 14 Forces that opposed the Syrian regime, commented on the exchange of diplomatic relations between Beirut and Damascus saying that "we were pleased to see Syria recognising Lebanon diplomatically”
Upon his return to Beirut after his visit to Damascus, Feltman met with head of the Future Movement Saad Rafik Hariri. His schedule, however, did not include a meeting with the Change and Reform Bloc leader General Michel Aoun, who is allied with Hezbollah, because his visit was a short one.
[Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation, Al-Hayat]