Thursday, April 24, 2008

Syrian president ready to talk to Israel once Bush term ends

BEIRUT, Lebanon - Syria's president said in an interview published Thursday that his country may hold peace talks with Israel, but not until a new U.S. administration takes office.

Syrian President Bashar Assad said that Turkish mediation over the past year could lay the groundwork for direct talks and that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had passed a message to Syria saying he is prepared to hand over the Golan Heights in return for peace.

In an interview with the Qatari newspaper Al-Watan, Assad said the United States is the only country that can sponsor direct Syrian-Israel negotiations. But he said the Bush administration, which leaves office in January, "does not have the vision or will for the peace process."

Assad said Turkish officials passed on a message a week ago that Olmert had "assured the Turkish prime minister of his readiness to return the Golan."

Olmert said he had sent messages to Damascus on peace prospects but did not reveal the contents. His spokesman, Mark Regev, declined to comment on the reports of Turkish mediation and offer of a Golan withdrawal but said Israel is genuinely interested in restarting talks with Syria........

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