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US relations with Syria look to thaw

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has announced the U.S. will dispatch two officials for "preliminary conversations" with the Syrian government. 

"It is a worthwhile effort to go and begin" talks, she said at a news conference in Jerusalem.

The two officals are Jeffrey Feltman, the Principle Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Near Eastern Affairs, and Daniel Shapiro of the National Security Council.  Feltman was previously the U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon.   Shapiro was an advisor to President Barack Obama's campaign.

The announcement comes after weeks of some of the highest level meetings between U.S. and Syrian officials since 2005, when the U.S. Ambassador to Damascus was recalled after the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in Beirut.

Since then relations have been strained between the two countries, especially because of  Syria's alliance with Iran and support for Hamas and Hezbollah.

Feltman and Shapiro are expected to leave this weekend for Damascus.  They are not expected to meet with Syrian president Bashar Al Assad. 

“We have no way to predict what the future of our relations might be, but we want to engage in a discussion," Clinton said. 

For more details, take a look at Syria commentator Joshua Landis' blog, Syria  Comment.