Reagan Has Contacted Syria; Talks Ongoing, Says State Department

The State Department confirmed Friday that President Reagan has sent a letter to Syrian President Hafez Assad in an apparent effort to improve relations between the two countries.

“Syria is an important country in the region, and it has an important role to play in any Middle East peace settlement,” State Department spokesman Charles Redman said.

Relations between the two countries weakened after the Syrians were linked with the attempted bombing of an El Al jet in London in April 1986. The Administration withdrew its Ambassador to Syria, Thomas Eagleton, last October in protest.

Redman said there were no plans to send Eagleton back. He denied assertions that the U.S. was hoping to use Syrian influence to free journalist Charles Glass who was taken hostage this week in Lebanon.

“There is no link between our concern for hostages and this broad question of U.S.-Syrian relations,” Redman said.

Redman denied that the letter constituted the opening of new diplomatic channels to Syria. “We have had a contact through our Charge in Damascus for some time and this is a part of a continuing process of dialogue,” he said.

Redman also reiterated State Department policy that Syria should play a role in a Middle East peace agreement.

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