Assad: Direct peace talks with Israel possible with US help
President Bashar al-Assad said Syria could hold direct peace talks with Israel if the United States acted as an arbitrator, according to an interview published on Wednesday. Assad also told Japan's Asahi Shimbun newspaper that he welcomed US President Barack Obama's new administration and wants to engage in dialogue for regional peace, but he also insisted on the return of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
"We need the United States to act as an arbitrator when we move from the current indirect negotiations to direct negotiations (with Israel)," he was quoted as saying.
Assad cautioned that possible progress of such talks would "depend on the next Israeli administration," the Japanese publication said.
The Syrian leader stressed his willingness to help USA work toward regional peace. "Changes do not happen overnight," Assad was quoted saying. "We must first start dialogue to clarify the shared interest, which is to achieve peace. "The administration of (President George) Bush did not do that, and it only cared about the benefit of his own country."
Assad welcomed the Obama administration's active engagement with Syria through sending envoys and US senators for meetings, the Asahi said. "It is important that we first begin dialogue and both take part in resolving problems," he told the newspaper. "It is not us who have changed. It is the Americans who have changed."
To achieve regional peace, the Syrian president emphasised the importance of including major parties in the peace process, adding that he would work to bring groups such as Hamas and Hizbullah to the table.