Miliband: Syria vital to peace in Middle East

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The Independent Online

David Miliband said that his talks with Syria's President, Bashar al-Assad, focused on ways of achieving a comprehensive peace in the Middle East.

The British Foreign Secretary said 2009 would be "an important year" in the region. "We all now have choices to make on how to fulfil comprehensive peace," he said after the talks. Relations between the West and Damascus have been strained by US accusations that Syria has turned a blind eye to Islamist fighters infiltrating Iraq, but diplomatic contacts between Europe and Damascus have increased in recent months.

The Syrian Foreign Minister, Walid Muallem, said the talks laid down the foundation for strong ties between the two countries. Mr Miliband told BBC Radio: "Syria has a big potential role to play in stability in the Middle East. It can be a force for stability or for instability. Over the past 18 months, I have been talking with the Syrian Foreign Minister about... Syria's responsibilities in the region in respect of counter-terrorism, in respect of Iraq, in respect of the Middle East peace process."