Schroeder Meets Assad, Hails Mitchell Report as Way Forward
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said after meeting Syrian President Bashar Al Assad in Berlin Tuesday that the Mitchell Report, which calls for an Israeli settlement freeze, was the "central instrument" for reaching peace in the Middle East, said AFP.
The report "is an important initiative. It may be the only one we have," to reach peace in the Middle East, Schroeder said after over an hour of talks with the Syrian leader.
But Assad did not mention the Mitchell Report, saying instead at a joint press conference with Schroeder that "UN resolutions must be applied. Each of us must work on implementing the UN resolutions," apparently referring to demands for an Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories.
The Mitchell Plan, named after the commission on Middle East peace led by former US senator George Mitchell, calls among other things for the Israelis to freeze their settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Schroeder had insisted on this point when he met Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Berlin last Thursday, highlighting a difference between Israel and its main European ally.
Schroeder said Tuesday that implementing the Mitchell Report's recommendations did not mean that each of its details must be put into the practice.
He said he felt that the significance of the report was that it could "be a central instrument" towards reaching peace.
Assad arrived in Germany Tuesday as the government sought to reassure Jewish groups over the two-day visit of the Syrian leader, who is accused of anti-Semitism, said the official Kuwaiti news agency, KUNA.
It said that Assad refused at the press conference to answer a question by an Israeli journalist about his allegedly anti-Semitic remarks.
Meanwhile, the German government said in a communiqué Tuesday that it understood Jewish concern over Assad’s visit, adding that German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer had already addressed the concerns when he opened the Israeli embassy in Berlin on May 9, said KUNA.
"The way to peace can only come with respect by both sides for the right to existence and the dignity of the other," Fischer said.
When Pope John Paul was in Damascus in early May, Assad accused the Israelis of "trying to kill religions in the same way (the Jews) betrayed Jesus Christ, in the same way they tried to kill the Prophet Mohammad."
On Tuesday, the mass-circulation German newspaper Bild ran a picture of Assad on its politically oriented second page with the headline: "Chancellor, Why Are You Welcoming this Israel-Hater?"
Schroeder said in answer to a question about this headline: "Germany has relations with almost all the countries of the world and it will stay that way."
He said Germany did not have to agree with Syria or its president on all positions, and Syria did not have to agree with Germany.
But he said Syria was a "key country for peaceful development in the Middle East."
German Jewish groups protested Assad's visit with a gathering of some 60 people at the site in central Berlin where a memorial to the Holocaust is to be built.
The Central Council of Jews in Germany took out a full-page advertisement Sunday and Tuesday in the Die Welt newspaper accusing Assad of being a dictator and of fanning hatred against Jews.
Assad is to meet Wednesday with German President Johannes Rau and Fischer, said AFP – Albawaba.com
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