Assad: Olmert agreed on withdrawal, worried from rising of Israeli right wing
By Viola Campali, Rome
Syrian president Bashar Assad is quoted Wednesday as saying that his country and Israel were very close to reach a peace agreement before the Israeli invasion to the Gaza Strip. According to the Syrian leader, Israeli premier Ehud Olmert has already agreed to return the occupied Golan Heights to Syria.
"We were so close to peace before the Israeli invasion to Gaza. This was when Olmert told Turkish Premier Erdogan he is ready to return the Golan Heights to Syria. We were negotiating and the only thing needed to be defined were the details about the 1967 border," Assad told the Italian La Repubblica newspaper.
Assad said the two sides made significant progress in their indirect talks in Turkey. "One night," explained Assad, he spoke over the phone with Erdogan and "Olmert was sitting in Erdogan’s office. Erdogan conveyed to Assad that the only thing they need to clarify was the 1967 border with six geographical points. "The conversation was very long," disclosed Assad and it was decided to give Olmert some time to talk about this with his government. After four days Israel launched its attack in Gaza. "At that point Turkey felt betrayed by Israel", Assad said.
Asked if he still sees it is possible to re-start of negotiations with the state of Israel, Assad answered "theoretically yes." And he elaborated: "The reference points of the deal involve the Madrid conference, UN resolutions 242 and 338 and the land for peace principle, which of course means a full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights." Assad noted he was not worried about the next Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu’s profile. According to Assad, he was concerned with the strengthening of the right wing in the Israeli society. "This is clearly an obstacle to peace," he affirmed.
Obama and ties with Iran
So far, the Syrian president is impressed by the initial steps taken by US President Barack Obama. "The disengagement from Iraq, the closure of Guantanamo are showing us that Obama is keeping his words so far," elaborated Assad. Following a question of what is needed in order to reestablish normal ties between the US and Syria, Assad said that "the US and Syrian interests coincide by 80%." According to Assad, with the American disengagement from Iraq a major obstacle between Washington and Damascus will be abolished. "Syria," continued Assad, "will work with the US towards the stabilization of Iraq."
As far the Iranian influence in Iraq is concerned, Assad said he was ready to mediate Between Washington and Tehran. "Syria will also intervene vis-à-vis Hizbullah and Hamas since it is already committed with the inter-Palestinian dialogue," he added
Assad stressed he is not looking for political rewards for mediating between Iran and the USA. "I am expecting some good results from the cooperation," he added. "Stability stops terrorism and extremism. US fed terrorism for the past eight years. Now, America has to understand that power does not have to be gained with weapons but with responsibility. If the new administration will understand this we can reach a turning-point," concluded the Syrian president.