Assad: Direct talks with Israel just after full withdrawal commitment
In an interview with the Washington Post, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said he hopes Barack Obama,won't start "another war anywhere in the world, especially not in the Middle East." In addition, the Syrian leader said, "We would like to see this new administration sincerely involved in the peace process."
According to him, he hopes Obama will back Syria's indirect negotiations with Israel, and he urged the new administration to pursue "the Lebanese track and the Palestinian track, as well."
Asked if he would mind if the Syrian track went first, Assad answered: "Of course not. Each track will help the other."
Assad also said he wants Syria and the U.S. to work together to stabilize Iraq as U.S. forces start to leave. "We can't turn the clock back," Assad said. "The war happened. Now we have to talk about the future. We have to forge a process, a political vision and a timetable for withdrawal."
Assad said that he is ready to move to direct talks with Israel as soon as he receives clarification on two points: One, he wants assurance that the Israelis will withdraw fully from the Golan Heights. To clarify that issue, he sent a "borders document" to the Israelis this month that highlights some points along the pre-1967 border. As of Monday, he said, he hadn't received an Israeli response. His second condition for direct talks is that the United States join as a sponsor.
On the question of Syria's future relations with Iran, Assad said the relationship wasn't about the "kind of statehood" Syria has or its cultural affinities, but about protecting Syrian interests against hostile neighbors. "It's about who plays a role in this region, who supports my rights," he said. "It's not that complicated."
Asked whether Syria was prepared to restrain Lebanon's Hizbullah, the Syrian president said this was a matter the Israelis should sort out in separate negotiations with Lebanon. "The longer the border, the bigger the peace," Assad said. "Hizbullah is on the Lebanese border, not Syrian. Hamas is on the Palestinian border. ... They should look at those other tracks. They should be comprehensive. If you want peace, you need three peace treaties, on three tracks."
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