PARIS // The President of Syria, Bashar al Assad said it could take between six months to two years to reach a peace agreement with Israel if the two sides, who have held indirect negotiations, agreed to face-to-face talks.
It was not immediately clear if the clock for his time frame for a possible deal would only start once the face-to-face talks began and Israel urged Syria yesterday not to drag its feet. "We are serious about peace. It would be a pity to let the current opportunity fall by the wayside," a spokesman for the Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert said when asked about Mr Assad's television interview. He added that Mr Olmert had conveyed a message to the Syrian leader earlier in the day through the Turkish prime minister Tayyip Erdogan and said now was the time to move.
Mr Assad and Mr Olmert were in Paris for a summit of EU and Mediterranean leaders, sitting together in the same room for the first time in their countries' history. But Mr Assad said he had not shaken hands with the Israeli prime minister. "No. We are engaged in indirect talks. We are not looking for symbols. We are trying to create a new reality; peace instead of war," he told France 2. "Once peace is signed then symbols take on a great importance," he added.
Syria launched indirect peace talks with Israel this year under Turkish mediation over the return of the Golan Heights captured by Israel in 1967. The last direct talks between Israel and Syria under US sponsorship broke down eight years ago and Washington has been reluctant to re-engage with Damascus because of its role in Lebanon and close ties with Iran. Mr Assad, whose visit to Paris marked the end of years of isolation from the West, said that anyone who wanted peace in the Middle East needed to talk to Syria.
He also said he remained committed to modernising his country and opening it up to democracy. "We keep moving forward, but with very clear, precise steps. There probably won't be any swift moves. Our goal is stability," he said. "Impulsive and badly thought out moves could lead to consequences that would be hard to resolve in the future." *Reuters