(Guardian) - Syria's ambassador to the United States belittled a Mideast peace conference that the Bush administration is trying to organize as a ``waste,'' saying Wednesday that he would counsel his country against attending it.
``We don't seriously believe that this is a peace conference that will lead to anywhere,'' Ambassador Imad Moustapha said at a public affairs forum in San Francisco.
No proposals had been circulated beforehand to lay the groundwork for progress at the gathering in Annapolis, Md., Moustapha said, raising questions about how serious Washington is about the conference.
``Forgive us if we deduce that this is only about a photo opportunity and about people in Washington, D.C., telling their electorate, 'Look, don't accuse us of only starting wars; we're working for peace in the Middle East,''' the ambassador said.
Syria has said it would attend only if discussions included the return of the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed. The position has been rejected by Israel, even though a peace deal involving a return of the Golan was close in the 1990s.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said that the administration wants Syria to participate, but that the conference must focus on the Palestinians and not Syria's grievances. The United States has set high expectations for the summit, saying it hopes to launch full peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians after a seven-year lull.
Moustapha said foreclosing the possibility of talking about the Golan Heights at the gathering was ``preposterous, but this is exactly what the U.S. administration has said.''
``And we are supposed to just come attend, be bemused, enjoy our time and leave?'' he said. ``Personally, if my government will ask my opinion, I will say it will be a waste of money, buying those expensive airline tickets and reservations in hotels, just to come attend this event in Maryland and then go back to Syria.''
The Bush administration has revealed little publicly about the conference, such as precise dates, and invitations have not gone out yet.
On Wednesday, Moustapha also rejected as ``absolutely, absolutely untrue'' allegations that a military installation struck by Israeli warplanes in September housed a nuclear site.
Syria has never sought nuclear technology, nor does it intend to do so ``in the foreseeable future,'' he said.