Syrian President Bashar al-Assad says he wants a direct dialogue with the United States.

During interviews with Turkish newspapers published today (Friday), the Syrian leader said relations with Washington are very tense, and his country has been unable to find an avenue for direct talks.

The State Department says it has had many discussions with Syria about its concerns and despite the recent withdrawal of Washington's ambassador to Damascus, the two countries continue to maintain contact through their embassies.

Syria has been under increasing pressure to withdraw its 14,000 troops from Lebanon and not to interfere in elections there. President Assad made no mention of Lebanon in his interviews.

A senior State Department official (Deputy Assistant Secretary David Satterfield) meets Lebanese leaders in Beirut on Monday to discuss the Syrian troop pullout, the country's upcoming elections and the investigation into the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.