Syria's President Assad refuses direct peace talks with Israel
Syria's President Basher al-Assad has accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of not being serious about peace, and rejected Israeli offers of direct peace talks after meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris.
AFP- Syria's President Bashar al-Assad said Friday that he had no "Israeli partner" ready to push forward the Middle East peace process, rebuffing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's offer of talks.
Accusing Netanyahu of not being serious about peace, Assad told reporters he was not willing to hold face-to-face negotiations with the Israeli leader and called instead for lower-level dialogue under Turkish mediation.
"If Mr Netanyahu is serious, he can send a team of experts, and we'll send a team of experts to Turkey. Then we can really talk, if they're interested," he said in Paris, after talks with France's President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Netanyahu visited Sarkozy on Wednesday, after which an Israeli official said the premier was "willing to meet the Syrian president at any time and anywhere to move on the peace negotiations on the basis of no pre-conditions."
Syria, however, has long had one main pre-condition for talks with Israel -- the return of the strategic Golan Heights, a plateau which Israeli captured in the countries' 1967 war and unilaterally annexed in 1981.
"Today, Syria wants peace. There is a mediator, Turkey, which is ready to resume its mediation. There is also French and European support for this process," Assad told reporters at Sarkozy's Elysee Palace.
"What we lack is an Israeli partner who is ready to go forward and ready to come to a result," he declared.
France hopes to use its strengthening ties with Syria to push for an end to Damascus' own dispute with Israel and to urge it to use its influence to help restart a separate peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.