Syria ready for direct talks with Israel, Assad says

Other News Materials 3 June 2008 15:49 (UTC +04:00)

Syria is not opposed to having direct talks with Israel but previous experiences with the Israelis were not encouraging, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said in remarks published Tuesday, reported dpa.

Assad's remarks came during his current Gulf tour, with the United Arab Emirates the first leg.

Speaking to editors of newspapers in the United Arab Emirates, the Syrian president said his country was not against direct negotiations with Israel.

"We have accepted them since the (1991) Madrid Middle East peace conference," al-Assad was quoted by the Dubai-based daily Gulf News as saying.

"Success of the talks depends on the Israeli side and the stability of the Israeli government and its ability to achieve this success," Assad said in reference to corruption allegations that may lead Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to step down.

Israel and Syria announced in May they had launched indirect peace talks under Turkish auspices - eight years after the last direct negotiations between the two countries collapsed.

Syria's Golan Heights has been under Israeli occupation since June 1967. The Syrians want Israel to withdraw from the Golan in return for peace but refuse to make any territorial concessions.

"We have explained our vision for peace and are waiting for the Israeli response. But our previous experience in talks with Israel was not encouraging. Syria is now making sure that Israel is ready for peace," Assad said.

There are no direct negotiations at the moment, the Syrian leader said.

"We believe indirect negotiations are sufficient at this stage as we are still negotiating to find a common ground. Once this is reached, we are willing to move to direct negotiations," Assad noted.

He strongly denied US and Israeli allegations that Syria was building a nuclear site but said acquiring nuclear energy for peaceful purposes was an international trend that countries had the right to pursue.

"In Syria, we want this to be done within an Arab context. The issue was discussed and agreed during the Arab summit of Riyadh," Assad said.