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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 October 2005, 09:31 GMT 10:31 UK
Damascus denies 'secret US deal'
By Jon Leyne
BBC News, in Amman

Senior Syrian officials gathered outside hospital after death of Ghazi Kanaan
Syria's old guard has been coming under increasing pressure
Syria has denied reports that it is trying to negotiate a deal with the United States to end its international isolation.

There has been growing pressure on the government in Damascus as a UN report is being prepared on whether Syria was involved in the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri, earlier this year.

With Syria's international isolation growing by the day, there have been a number of reports that Damascus may be trying to cut a deal with Washington.

The idea is that Syria would agree to a number of American demands, including:

  • cutting off alleged support for Iraqi insurgents
  • agreeing to send for trial anyone implicated in the Hariri assassination.
In return, the US would relax the pressure on President Bashar al-Assad.

A Syrian government official said it was "out of the question" that Syria would strike any deals, though he said that Syria did hope for what he described as an "objective dialogue" with the United States.

Mr Assad said last week that there had been an attempt to resume contact with Washington using European and Arab intermediaries.

Washington's tough demands would be hard for him to accept, as they would undermine his own position at home.

On the other hand, the Bush administration does seem in two minds about whether it wants to bring about the downfall of Mr Assad if only for fear of who might take over.

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