DAMASCUS, Syria - Sen. Arlen Specter (R., Pa.) and Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy (D., R.I.) visited the Syrian capital yesterday to try to persuade the Arab state to make peace with Israel and to woo it from the Iranian sphere of orbit.
The lawmakers visited Syria after a trip to neighboring Israel, which gave their mediation effort its blessing. Israel and Syria have been in a state of war for decades despite occasional diplomatic forays between the two nations.
Israel hopes to draw the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad out of its alliances with Iran, the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah, and the extremist Palestinian group Hamas, all of which oppose the Jewish state.
Specter said he hoped U.S. intervention would revive a dormant dialogue between Syria and Israel.
"The time is right now, and prospects are very good," Specter said yesterday, on his 16th visit to Syria since 1984. "The parties will continue talks through intermediaries, and it's my hope and expectation at some point, if preliminary progress has been made, the U.S. government would be ready, too."
Syrian officials voiced doubt that much would come out of the mediation effort as long as there is no movement on the issue of the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Mideast War.
Peace talks between the two countries collapsed in 2000 over the extent of an Israeli pullout from the plateau. In one poll this year, 10 percent of Israelis surveyed supported a full withdrawal.
"Syria will appreciate any positive act to push for resumption of the peace process, but going into the details of the negotiations will need a different process," said a Syrian official speaking on condition of anonymity. "There is no point of a peace process on the Israeli-Syrian track if the occupied Golan Heights are not guaranteed back."
Another possible irritant in the relations is an Israeli air strike against an unspecified military target deep inside Syria in September.
The United States maintains chilly diplomatic relations with Syria over its alleged interference in Lebanese affairs and its support for militant groups that oppose Israel, including Hezbollah and Hamas.
Specter told reporters he would convey Syrian responses to Washington and Israeli officials along with "my sense of what should happen next."