Specter: Syrian president wants to resume peace talks with Israel

Syria’s president wants to resume peace negotiations with Israel, U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter said Tuesday after meeting with Bashar Assad.

“Assad stated an interest in negotiating with Israel to try to bring a peaceful settlement to the Syrian-Israeli dispute under the U.N. doctrine of land-for-peace,” the Pennsylvania Republican said at a news conference at Damascus airport before leaving the country.

Specter, who visited Syria despite loud objections from the Bush administration, did not say what conditions Assad gave for restarting talks with the Israelis. Syrian officials were not available for comment.


Specter said he discussed with Assad how Syria could use its influence with Hamas to urge the Palestinian militant group to give up its refusal to recognize Israel. Specter also met with Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem.

Syria’s official news agency, SANA, reported that the Assad-Specter talks focused on the situation in Iraq, the Palestinian territories, Lebanon and the issue of terrorism and ways of combating it.

Assad told Specter that all the region’s problems should be solved, stressing that the solution to these problems is a political one, rather than a security issue, SANA said.

It added that Specter stressed the importance of reactivating the dialogue between the United States and Syria to achieve security and stability in the Middle East.

A bipartisan panel on Iraq recommended earlier this month that the U.S. engage Syria, Iraq’s neighbor, toward returning stability to Iraq.

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  • http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/OWE646613.htm

    By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

    DAMASCUS, Dec 26 (Reuters) – Syria is seeking to hold a conference grouping Iraqi factions to try to help stabilise its eastern neighbour, a U.S. senator who has met President Bashar al-Assad said on Tuesday.
    Assad opposed the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq but has been adopting a friendlier policy toward the Baghdad government. The two countries re-opened embassies in each other’s capitals this month after a decades-long break.
    “The president stated that Syria would be willing to host a conference where all of the factions of Iraq would come to Syria to try to work through the problems and try to reach a consensus of what ought to be done in Iraq,” Senator Arlen Specter told a news conference.
    “President Assad said that Turkey has already been consulted and would participate, as would other Arab countries, to try to find a political solution to what is happening now in Iraq,” Specter said before leaving Damascus.
    Specter did not say when the conference could be held. The Republican lawmaker is the latest member of Congress to visit Syria since a bipartisan U.S. panel recommended that the Bush administration talk to Damascus and Tehran about Iraq.
    Syria, which shares a desert border with Iraq, hosts up to one million Iraqi refugees, who mostly fled their homeland after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Damascus has links with Iraqi groups ranging from Sunnis and former Baathists to Shi’ite leaders.
    The Baathist government in Damascus has been buoyed by the easing of efforts by the West to isolate Syria and by the U.S. Iraq Study Group’s recommendation to revive Arab-Israeli peace efforts, which could include Israeli withdrawal from the Syrian Golan Heights. Israel has occupied the area since 1967.
    The Bush administration has shown no signs of implementing the panel’s recommendation regarding Syria and has kept up accusations that Syria is allowing anti-U.S. fighters to cross its border into Iraq, which Damascus denies.
    “President Assad said he has tried to engage the United States to use our forces to work with Syria to control the border. He says the United States has not been responsive,” Specter said.
    “The point was made that Iraq cannot be governed by majority rule but has to be governed by consensus,” he said.
    Washington imposed several sanctions on Syria in 2004, mainly for backing the Palestinian Hamas movement and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
    The United States has also led Western efforts to isolate Syria over its alleged role in last year’s assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafik al-Hariri in Beirut. Damascus denies involvement.

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