Assad: Peace unlikely before Bush leaves



An Israeli-Syrian peace accord is unlikely before President Bush steps down, Bashar Assad said.

“The most important thing in direct negotiations is who sponsors them,” the Syrian president told France’s Le Figaro newspaper on Monday, when asked about the prospect of his country and Israel upgrading their indirect, Turkish-mediated talks.

“Frankly, we do not think that the current American administration is capable of making peace. It doesn’t have either the will or the vision and it only has a few months left,” Assad said. “We are betting on the next president and his administration.”

President Bush has been cool on Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s recent decision to engage Assad, given U.S. assessments that Syria is contributing fighters for the Iraqi insurgency and cooperating with North Korea on nuclear proliferation.

Assad also told the French newspaper that France could play a crucial role in encouraging peace between Syria and Israel. His remarks came less than a week before the Union for the Mediterranean summit in Paris, which he will attend along with representatives from more than 40 nations.

If French President Nicolas Sarkozy approved of negotiating a Syria-Israel peace deal, Assad said, “I will just as soon invite him to directly support this peace process. Of course I am talking here about direct negotiations.”

Speaking of his upcoming trip to Paris after years of frozen diplomatic ties with the country, Assad said, “This visit is a historic visit for me: a opening toward France and Europe.”

The dictator also explained his government’s ties to Iran as “completely natural,” citing the strong support Iran lends his country. He added that he did not believe Iran intended to make nuclear weapons.



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