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Obama wants ‘sustained engagement’ with Iran, Syria

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The United States will pursue "sustained engagement" with Syria and Iran, President Obama said.

Obama on Feb. 27 outlined his plans for a phased withdrawal from Iraq in a speech at Camp Lejeune, a U.S. Marines base in North Carolina.

"The future of Iraq is inseparable from the future of the broader Middle East, so we must work with our friends and partners to establish a new framework that advances Iraq’s security and the region’s," Obama said. "It is time for Iraq to be a full partner in a regional dialogue, and for Iraq’s neighbors to establish productive and normalized relations with Iraq. And going forward, the United States will pursue principled and sustained engagement with all of the nations in the region, and that will include Iran and Syria. "

Dennis Ross, newly appointed to a senior State Department position, is reportedly shaping plans to reach out to Iran in a bid to have it stand down from its suspected nuclear weapons program.

Israeli officials say they are not opposed to immediate engagement with Iran.

"We appreciate the review" of Iran policy "the administration is doing," Sallai Meridor, the Israeli ambassador to Washington, said this week at an Israel Project luncheon. "We know they are taking the issue seriously." 

Jeffrey Feltman, an acting assistant secretary at the State Department, met Feb. 26 with Imad Moustapha, Syria’s ambassador to Washingon, the most senior meeting the envoy has had with U.S. officials in five years.

A senior State Department official described the meeting as "substantive" and "constructive" although serious issues remain, including Syria’s backing for terrorism and its weapons development.

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