A top Syrian official tells ABC News that President Obama has "changed everything in the world" and left the international community "more optimistic."
Syrian presidential adviser Dr. Buthaina Shaaban spoke with ABC News during the Arab League Summit in Doha, Qatar.
The longtime government official has been intimately involved in Syrian foreign policy. Earlier this month she met with two U.S. diplomats, Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman and envoy Daniel Shapiro, sent to Damascus by Obama to start mending relations with the Arab state.
U.S.-Syrian relations were strained under the Bush administration. America withdrew its ambassador to Damascus in 2005 after the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, widely blamed on Syria. President Bashar al Assad denied any link between his government and the Beirut bombing that killed Hariri.
More than four years later the United States is courting Syrian support for a stable Iraq and encouraging efforts by Syria's regional rivals, Saudi Arabia in particular, to welcome the long-isolated state back into the fold.
This week's Arab League Summit was seen as a culmination of that effort, the completion of a reconciliation forged at recent meetings in Riyadh and Kuwait. As one of its long-term goals in the region the United States could rekindle talks between Syria and Israel. The neighboring states, officially still at war, reportedly came close to a deal through Turkish-led mediation efforts last year.
Shaaban spoke to ABC News about America's Middle East policy, Obama's Syrian outreach and prospects for peace with Israel.
ABC News: What's your take-away from this one-day Arab summit? What do you think was accomplished?
Shaaban: I think we're going away with the best results we could have hoped for. We agreed on essential issues ...and the presence of President Omar Al Bashir of Sudan was an important because most Arabs reject the indictment against him.
ABC News: Why? Why the Arab support for Al Bashir?
Shaaban: Because the negotiations for Darfur almost reached a result at the time the indictment came down. I think they should have given the negotiations the time and space to mature and to yield results. It's unprecedented to indict a sitting president and it's like a slap in the face on all Arab leaders, not just the president of Sudan.
ABC News: This is the first Arab League conference since President Obama took office. Was that felt? Did it come up or change the substance or tenor?
Shaaban: I think the presence of Barack Obama has changed everything in the world, whether consciously or unconsciously. I think everybody feels more optimistic, more hopeful now that President Obama is speaking about dialogue and not preemptive strikes as the previous administration. Most importantly, he works on the basis of respect, I think this is what the Arabs need most.
ABC News: President Obama sent two officials to meet with you and your colleagues in Damascus. How would you describe that meeting?
Shaaban: I think it was a very good meeting. This is the natural course of relations between countries, that Feltman said we are coming to engage, to dialogue and to see what are the points we agree upon, what are the points we differ about. That seemed to us like normal countries with normal relations, approaching in a respectable fashion.
ABC News: What were the topics on the table? What did they ask for?