01/27/2009, 00.00
SYRIA - UNITED STATES

Assad: ready to dialogue with Obama, but "without conditions"

The Syrian president speaks of positive signs from the new American administration, and reveals that officials close to the new president have already visited Damascus. Talks with Israel remain frozen.

Beirut (AsiaNews) - Syria is ready to dialogue with Obama's new U.S. administration, but "without conditions," while it is keeping indirect talks with Israel "frozen." Syrian president Bashar Assad made the remarks in an interview with al-Manar, the Lebanese television station owned by Hezbollah.

"We have positive signs" from the new administration, he said, "but we have learned to be cautious and not to count on such signs as long as there is nothing tangible." Assad also revealed that officials close to the Obama administration were sent to Damascus weeks before the inauguration of the new president, as a prelude to dialogue. But "if there are conditions, then there will be no dialogue. They know that."

Currently there is no United States ambassador in Damascus. The representative was withdrawn four years ago by the Bush administration, because of Syria's support for terrorists in Iraq and interference in Lebanon.

As for the indirect talks that were underway with Israel with Turkey's mediation, and which Syria suspended at the beginning of the Israeli attack on Gaza, Assad maintained that there are no prospects for an immediate resumption, and reiterated that the complete withdrawal of the Israelis from the Golan Heights, occupied during the war in 1967, is an absolute condition. "We will never abandon this," he said.

Yesterday, outgoing Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert seemed more optimistic on relations with Syria. "At the end of the day," he said, "we will be able to reach an agreement that will end the conflict between us and the Syrians." "They have lots of aspirations, lots of desires - sometimes entirely unrealistic - but they also know that it is better to make peace with Israel than to fight with Israel."

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