DAMASCUS, Syria – Four U.S. Congressmen met Syrian President Bashar Assad on Saturday for talks on improved relations with Syria and the Middle East peace process.
There is "some opportunity for real progress" in U.S.-Syrian relations, Rep. Brian Kerns, R-Ind., told reporters after the meeting.
The United States has long listed Syria as a country that sponsors terrorism because of its support for militant Palestinian groups. But Washington did not veto Syria's recent bid to join the U.N. Security Council, for a two-year term.
Assad told the congressional delegation that Syria was prepared to cooperate with the United States' campaign against terrorism "within practical parameters," the official Syrian Arab News Agency reported.
Syria argues that militant Palestinian groups are waging a legitimate struggle against Israeli occupation and are therefore not terrorist.
The delegation's leader, Darrell Issa, R-Calif., told reporters that for the United States to remove Hezbollah from its list of terrorist organizations, the Lebanese-based group must renounce terrorism and confine itself to its humanitarian and parliamentary activities.
Hezbollah, which receives Syrian support, was the principal guerrilla force opposing the Israeli occupation of south Lebanon until the Israelis withdrew last year. It continues to attack Israeli troops over a tiny parcel of disputed land on Lebanon's southern border.
However, it also operates as a political party, with nine members in parliament, and provides social services to low-income people.
Issa, who serves on the House Committee on International Relations, is the grandson of Lebanese immigrants to the United States.
The delegation arrived in Syria on Saturday and was expected to leave for Beirut on Sunday for talks with Lebanese President Emile Lahoud.
The other congressmen on the trip are Nick Rahall, D-W.Va, and John Cooksey, R-La.