US house speaker meets Syrian president

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US house speaker Nancy Pelosi has reported that the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, is ready to resume peace talks with Israel.

Speaking in Damascus after the talks Democrat Ms Pelosi told reporters that the Middle Eastern nation was ready to resume the peace process in the region.

"We were very pleased with the reassurances we received from the president [Assad] that he was ready to resume the peace process. He was ready to engage in negotiations [for] peace with Israel," Pelosi said.

Talks with Mr Assad allowed the US speaker to pass on a similar message from Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert.

"The meeting with the president enabled us to communicate a message from prime minister Olmert that Israel was ready to engage in peace talks as well," she added.

Ms Pelosi is one of the most senior US officials to visit Syria since talks between the two countries ceased due to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. However president George Bush is said to be incensed by the visit while a White House official called the talks "counterproductive".

Along with discussing peace talks with Israel, Ms Pelosi also challenged Mr Assad over Syria's relationship with militant Islamist groups and problems of suicide bombers and fighters illegally entering neighbouring Iraq through the country.

The official news agency in the country cited Mr Assad as telling Ms Pelosi that "Syria has adopted the Arab initiative. Its strategic choice is peace".

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