Assad: No real Israeli partner for peace

Syrian president slams settlement activity; Moallem counters Peres: "We want Golan on a gold platter."

assad Steinmeier 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
assad Steinmeier 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Syrian President Bashar Assad said Tuesday that there is no "real partner" in Israel to make peace, stressing that a halt to settlements is essential in order to restart peace talks. Syria has said it is willing to resume indirect peace talks mediated by Turkey as long as they focus on a complete Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights. But Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has said he is not willing to cede the territory. "What Syria is proposing for peace is not conditions but rather they are rights that cannot be negotiated or abandoned," Syria's official news agency SANA quoted Assad as saying. "The problem is that there is no real Israeli partner to make peace." Speaking during a meeting in Damascus with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Assad stressed that the lifting of Israel's siege of the Gaza Strip and a halt to building settlements in the West Bank were "first steps to discuss peace." Also Tuesday, a day after President Shimon Peres said Syria could not expect to receive the Golan Heights from Israel on a silver platter, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said the country actually wanted the territory back on a "gold platter." "Let's face it - it's our land and our right to have it back is the most normal thing in the world," he added after a meeting Tuesday with Steinmeier, which was also attended by Assad, according to AFP. On Monday, Peres had asked Steinmeier to make it clear that Assad must understand he could not expect to receive the Golan on a silver platter while he continued to strengthen Hizbullah and maintain contact with Iran. Moallem said his country wanted to resume Turkish-mediated indirect peace talks with Israel before initiating direct negotiations. But he questioned Israel's willingness for peace. "Regarding resuming direct talks [with Israel], we still believe that resuming indirect talks through Turkey is the best way to move toward direct talks that can lead to results. But beforehand we want to be sure [if] there is a political decision in Israel to achieve peace," Moallem told reporters. In response to Moallem's remarks, Minister-without-Portfolio Yossi Peled stated that "it's ludicrous for Syria to demand a prior agreement for a withdrawal from the Golan Heights, without any preconditions." "Setting preconditions, as Moallem has, empties the negotiations of all their contents and turns them into a joke," he continued. "In my presence, the prime minister made a commitment that a government headed by him will not pull out of the Golan, and I believe he will keep his promise." Meanwhile, Steinmeier urged Syria to play a role in moving the Middle East peace process forward. "I appeal to Syria to make its contribution to the success of the [peace] process," Steinmeier said. Opportunities "must be used this year, otherwise the window will close again," he added. Steinmeier said that there are signals from all concerned parties to move the peace process forward in "a positive atmosphere" after the Obama administration showed interest in Middle East peace. He called on Syria, which supports terrorist groups such as Hizbullah and Hamas, to rein in groups that try to block the peace process. Steinmeier said he discussed with Assad the conditions for achieving peace and pushing these conditions forward. "The impressions I had in Israel is that there is readiness to advance forward in this regard [peace]," he said. "Assad heard this and reiterated that there needs to be preparation of positions for the new start."