Assad denies Syria ''isolated'', dismisses Israeli reports on ''secret talks''
Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad has rejected the notion his country has become "isolated" following the recent US threats and the Iranian and Libyan move to open weapons of mass destruction facilities to international inspections.
In a comprehensive interview with the London-based A-Sharq al-Awast newspaper, published Monday, Assad stressed that Syria is expanding its international ties, and cited his recent official visit to Ankara as an example.
At the beginning of this month, Assad visited Turkey, making him the first Syrian head of state to visit Ankara since Syria became independent in 1946. Assad held talks with his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Necdet Sezer and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other top Turkish officials.
Assad told A-Sharq al-Awast, "We don't see ourselves as isolated, maybe we have different views with other sides, but we maintain good relations with various countries. Ties were even upgraded with some states that we had disputes with in the past."
Regarding a possible call from the Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon to resume peace talks, the Syrian leader voiced his doubts over Tel Aviv's "seriousness", but added that Syria was ready to resume negotiations based on what was agreed upon in the Madrid 1991 peace conference and what was reached between the two sides later in the direct talks.
Earlier this month, Syria rejected Israeli president Moshe Katsav's invitation to Assad to visit Jerusalem with "no preconditions."
Assad further told the newspaper that the recent Israeli reports regarding "secret contacts" between Syria and Israel reflect embarrassment within the Israeli leadership.
"Whatever Israel publishes are Israeli attempts to disrupt (the negotiations) and reflect the internal embarrassment in the Israeli leadership," Assad said, and stressed that "our policy hasn't changed, it was and remains constant.
"Why should we hold secret talks? We should not do this - a country that holds secret talks seeks to hide this from its people, [but] the Syrian people support peace, therefore why should the talks not be public?", Assad asked.
"The Europeans tell us they don't think [Israeli prime minister Ariel] Sharon carries with him a message of peace...our goal is to reach peace and therefore we are ready to positively respond to any initiative in this regard," he told the newspaper.
Regarding ties with Washington, the Syrian president said Damascus maintains open channels with the American administration and with congress members.
Replying to whether he believes the United States might take a harsher stance towards Syria, he said, "I hope this will not happen".
He conveyed that the problem with the US is the internal disputes in the Bush administration and the biased policy towards Israel.
"We see a superpower that doesn't have a clear policy towards the region", the Syrian leader said. (Albawaba.com)
© 2004 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)