U.S. Senator Arlen Specter meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus on Tuesday. (Reuters)
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
By The Associated Press
DAMASCUS, Syria -- Syria's president wants to resume peace negotiations with Israel, U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter said yesterday 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.
Mr. Specter, who visited Syria despite loud objections from the Bush administration, did not say what conditions Mr. Assad gave for restarting talks with the Israelis. Syrian officials were not available for comment.
Peace negotiations between the neighbors broke down in 2000. Syria has said it would resume negotiations but only within the framework of a comprehensive peace process.
Damascus wants the return of the entire Golan Heights, occupied by Israel in the 1967 war.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on Monday he would like to renew peace talks with Syria, but insisted that Damascus first end its support of anti-Israel militant groups like Hamas and Hezbollah.
Syrian officials could not be reached for comment on Mr. Olmert's statement.
Mr. Specter said he discussed with Mr. Assad how Syria could use its influence with Hamas to urge the Palestinian militant group to give up its refusal to recognize Israel. Mr. 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.
Mr. Assad told Mr. 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 Mr. 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 United States engage Syria, Iraq's neighbor, toward returning stability to Iraq.
The United States has limited diplomatic ties with Syria because of its support for Hezbollah and Hamas, which the United States deems terrorist organizations. President Bush has expressed reluctance to seek help from Damascus on Iraq until the Syrians curb that support and reduce their influence in Lebanon.
Mr. Specter's visit came on the heels of trips to Damascus by Democratic Sens. Bill Nelson of Florida, John Kerry of Massachusetts and Christopher Dodd of Connecticut.
Mr. Specter said before he left that he and other Republicans are concerned that the administration's policies in the Middle East are not working and that other GOP members may follow in his footsteps.