Syria’s Assad says Netanyahu not ready for peace 14Nov09 November 16, 2009

Middle East Online -  14 November 2009


PARIS – Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad said Friday that he had no “Israeli partner” ready to push forward the Middle East peace process.

Accusing hardline Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of not being serious about peace, Assad told reporters he was not willing to hold face-to-face negotiations with the Israeli leader and called instead for lower-level dialogue under Turkish mediation.

“If Mr. Netanyahu is serious, he can send a team of experts, and we’ll send a team of experts to Turkey. Then we can really talk, if they’re interested,” he said in Paris, after talks with France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Syria wants the return of its Golan Heights, under illegal Israeli occupation since 1967.

“Today, Syria wants peace. There is a mediator, Turkey, which is ready to resume its mediation. There is also French and European support for this process,” Assad told reporters at Sarkozy’s Elysee Palace.

“What we lack is an Israeli partner who is ready to go forward and ready to come to a result,” he declared.

Relations between France and Syria have been warming since Assad paid a landmark visit to Paris last year for Bastille Day celebrations and Sarkozy visited Damascus two months later in September 2008.

Turkish mediation between Syria and Israel broke off last year during Israel’s offensive on Gaza, closing a promising diplomatic channel, but Ankara says it is willing to resume its role overseeing telephone talks between leaders.

The editor of Syria’s ruling party newspaper Al Baath, Abdel-Latif Omran, said that Syria would stick to its demand for the return of the Golan Heights but was ready to negotiate on parallel issues.

“We hope that the efforts put forward by the European Union and France will lead to true peace in the Middle East, but there is no Israeli willingness to make peace,” he noted.

Meanwhile, France says it is stepping up efforts to restart the stalled peace process between Israel and Palestinians. Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner is heading to the region for talks next week.

Sarkozy outlined “important suggestions” aimed at restarting the comatose peace process during telephone talks with Palestinian Authority president Mahmud Abbas on Thursday, according to a Palestinian aide.

A senior Palestinian official said that the “suggestions” included holding a Middle East peace conference in Moscow, an idea Russia has been pushing for months.

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