What does Bashar Assad have in mind?

NEW YORK, June 14 (JTA) — Syrian President Hafez Assad’s son and heir apparent commented on the peace process this week — but there is disagreement about what exactly he said.

On Tuesday, on the sidelines of his father’s funeral, Bashar Assad met with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and vowed to pursue his father’s policies toward Israel.

Every Syrian “is committed to continue in the same way that President Assad was following,” Bashar said after a 10-minute meeting with Albright.

Albright said she was very encouraged by her meeting with Bashar, whom she described as “very poised” and “ready to assume his duties.”

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), who was part of the U.S. delegation led by Albright, later said that he interpreted Bashar’s comments as indicating he would not continue his father’s intransigence toward Israel, but would adopt a more flexible approach.

Many analysts interpreted the comments differently, saying Bashar is unlikely to stray from the hard line his father set in negotiations with Israel. Hafez Assad had demanded a total Israeli pullback from the Golan Heights to the June 4, 1967, lines.

While his funeral drew Arab heads of state, Western countries sent lower-level delegations.

Neither President Clinton nor Vice President Al Gore attended because Syria remains on a U.S. list of states that sponsor terrorism.

The only Western head of state to attend the funeral was French President Jacques Chirac.

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