Assad tells Italian newspaper: Olmert agreed to give up the entire Golan
By Haaretz Staff and Reuters
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert agreed to withdraw from all of the Golan
Heights during indirect peace talks with Damascus, Syrian President
Bashar Assad told the Italian newspaper La Repubblica.
In an interview that appeared in the newspaper yesterday, Assad said
Israel and Syria were within "touching distance" of a peace agreement.
The Syrian premier told La Repubblica that during the Turkish-mediated
peace negotiations, Olmert indicated to Turkish Prime Minister Reccep
Tayip Erdogan that he was ready to relinquish all of the Golan Heights
Assad added that both sides were very near an agreement, and that all
that remained was to finalize last details over the precise route of
the 1967 line, which would serve as the future border between the two
"We spoke on the phone for three hours. Olmert evaded the issue, I
asked through Erdogan for a clear answer. He suggested putting the
decision off for a few days so he could consult with his cabinet.
Then, on the fourth day, Israel launched its offensive in Gaza.
Another opportunity missed," he said.
"Turkey became exasperated with Israel because it felt duped [because
of the Gaza war]," Assad added.
The Syrian leader said he was concerned over the future of peace talks
given the make-up of Israel's next government, which in all likelihood
will be formed by Benjamin Netanyahu. "I see the finish line moving
further away," Assad said. "I am not fearful of Netanyahu, but over
the fact that Israel voted for a rightist government. This is the
biggest hurdle to peace."
Assad also said he hoped to meet U.S. President Barack Obama and
expressed his willingness to help mediate between the West and Iran.
"With the pullout in Iraq, the will for peace, the closing of
Guantanamo, (Obama) has shown himself to be a man of his word," he
said, referring to the U.S. naval base in Cuba where hundreds of
suspected Islamist militants have been held, most for years without
But Assad said it was too soon to speak of a "historic shift" in U.S.
He said Obama would have to rehabilitate the U.S.'s credibility.
Obama has been reviewing U.S. policy toward Syria, including whether
to return an ambassador to Damascus.
Washington pulled its ambassador out of Syria after the 2005
assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Assad said the United States under Obama could play an important role
bringing peace to the region. "Only Washington can press Israel," he
He urged the West to come up with concrete proposals for Iran, which
he said was "an important country, like it or not." Iran says its
nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
Of Iran's role in Iraq, he said Tehran's influence should not be seen
as negative if based on "reciprocal respect," and drew a distinction
between influence and interference.
"If instead we're talking about facilitating dialogue with Tehran, we
need to give that government a concrete proposal," Assad said