Syrian president says Israel doesn't want peace

AP News
Posted: Nov 13, 2009 3:07 PM

Syrian President Bashar Assad urged France on Friday to support Turkish mediation efforts to get momentum in the Middle East peace process.

Assad welcomed renewed indirect discussions mediated by Turkey, but appeared to dismiss suggestions of a direct meeting with Israel's prime minister.

"What would we talk about, the menu or the return of land?" Assad told reporters after talks and lunch with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

"Me, I say we would talk about returning land, and for this subject there is a framework," mechanisms and specialized negotiators to handle this, he said. "It is neither me nor Mr. (Benjamin) Netanyahu."

Assad was in Paris two days after the Israeli prime minister visited the city and said he was ready to meet the Syrian president anywhere, at any moment, but without pre-established conditions, to relaunch talks over the Israeli-Syrian dimension of the broader Mideast peace process.

"If Mr. Netanyahu is serious, he can send his teams of experts, we will send our teams of experts to Turkey. They can then talk, if they are really interested in peace," Assad said.

Turkey has mediated talks between Israel and Syria, but they broke off in March with the new, more hardline Israeli government.

In an interview recorded Friday afternoon and broadcast on France 2 television Friday evening, Assad said France could play an important role in getting talks started.

France "should support the role of the Turkish mediator and persuade Israel to return to the negotiating table with the Turkish mediator," Assad said.

However, French-Turkish relations have deteriorated under Sarkozy, a firm and vocal opponent of EU membership for Turkey, and it is not clear whether France could have much influence with Ankara.

Assad reiterated his complaint that Israel is not fully committed to talks mediated by Turkey. He said the mediator and Syria are ready, but "what is missing is an Israeli partner ready to move forward and ready to reach a result."

Besides Mideast peace, Sarkozy and Assad discussed Iran's contested nuclear program. Damascus is a friend of Tehran.

In the television interview, Assad cast doubt on Iran's alleged aspirations to make a nuclear weapon and urged Europe to reject what he said were U.S. allegations that Tehran wanted such weapons.

Asked about how he felt about President Barack Obama one year after the U.S. leader's election, Assad said he was waiting to hear a concrete action plan from Obama to transform his ideas into reality.

"I think we have to give Obama more time. But I can say that the people of the Middle East are progressively starting to lose hope. I hope they are wrong," Assad said.