DAMASCUS, SYRIA — Relations between Syria and the US have long been sour over American accusations that Syria has harbored "terrorist" organizations. There have been several recent points of friction. But diplomats and Syrians say improvement has followed the visit of US Secretary of State Albright.
Syria has spearheaded opposition to a US-backed Mideast economic summit scheduled for November in Doha, Qatar. Israel is to attend, and many Arab states do not want to reward Israel for what they deem Israel's undermining of the peace.
"How could anybody ask us to attend the conference, when you see what [Israeli Premier Benjamin] Netanyahu is doing in the Golan?" said Syrian Vice Premier Salim Yassin in an interview. "If a state in the US were occupied, and the occupiers asked: 'Come and do business with us,' what would you say?"
Syria has also strongly objected to high-level Syrian officials being subject to very intrusive searches when they arrive at US airports. This is in line with new Federal Aviation Administration regulations regarding nationals of "terrorist"-listed states, but the bad feeling engendered in Syria has prompted American officials to arrange letters of exemption.
Congress passed bills in July that would ban financial dealings with Syria, but President Clinton opposes the move.
Another conflict arose after a mortar attack by Israeli-allied militiamen on southern Lebanon Aug. 18. Hizbullah responded by sending Katyusha rockets into Israel. Ms. Albright phoned Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa, a Western diplomat says, and requested Syria's help in stopping the Katyusha attacks. He agreed - on condition that she ask Israel to halt attacks on Lebanese civilians. The Katyusha attacks stopped, but Israeli jets struck three civilian targets in Lebanon.
"They [the Syrians] don't play dirty games with the Americans," says a Western diplomat here. "And they do not understand why they are not rewarded for their consistency with US-defined peace principles."