Assad: No talks till Israel cedes Golan

Syrian leader doesn't foresee negotiations with Israel, says Palestinians are key to regional peace.

Bashar Assad 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Bashar Assad 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Syrian President Bashar Assad believes that the return of the Golan Heights is a condition for peace talks between his country and Israel, but at the same time does not foresee such negotiations happening in the near future. "I am not very optimistic about this government, but whether the regime is Left or Right doesn't really matter… The bottom line is that there is occupied territory that must be returned to Syria, and then we can talk about peace," Assad told the Austrian daily Die Presse in an interview published at the weekend. Assad lamented the instability of Israeli governments, which he said impedes the prospects for serious peace talks. "Governments in Israel come and go, whereas peace is a fixed goal that one must work towards consistently, even when there is no partner," he said, proceeding to liken his country's peace aspirations to the efforts to marry, even when the goal of finding an acquiescing partner does not immediately materialize. The Palestinians, the Syrian leader continued, are the key to regional peace, of which an account would be a crucial stage. "You must differentiate between a peace agreement and peace. An agreement is a step on the trail to peace. For Arabs, the Palestinian problem is a core issue, one that must be resolved in order to reach sustainable peace," he said, adding that dealing with isolated issues might lead to an agreement, but not to peace. While the IDF can retain control over the Golan Heights, Assad continued, the powerful army would not contribute to promoting peace in the region. "Israelis must realize that their military force won't take them anywhere… If Israel doesn't want peace, it will live without it," he told Die Presse. Assad was not enthusiastic about the notion of his country mediating between Iran and the West when the Austrian newspaper raised the notion. He also stressed that since Iran had signed the Non-Proliferation-Treaty preventing the spread of nuclear weapons, the Islamic republic had the right to promote a "peaceful" nuclear program, including the enrichment of "fissionable materials." "Our border with Iran provides us with enough problems. But if there is anything to promote the mitigation of the conflict, we'd be willing to do it," he said. On Sunday, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman toned down previous statements regarding peace prospects with Syria, telling Israel Radio he would be willing to immediately hold peace talks with Damascus, but only without preconditions.