Assad calls for dialogue with Israel, ready to cooperate with US


dpa German Press Agency
Published: Friday December 15, 2006

Rome (dpa) - Syria wants dialogue with Israel and is ready to cooperate with the United States on Iraq, President Bashar Assad said in an interview published on Friday by Italian daily La Repubblica. "Syria and Israel can live side-by-side in peace and harmony. (Israeli Premier Ehud) Olmert should talk to Syria and, as some Israelis say, find out if we are bluffing or not," Assad was quoted as saying.

During a visit to Rome on Wednesday, Olmert reiterated his government's opposition to holding talks with Damascus until it cuts its ties with anti-Israeli militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah.

Assad told La Repubblica that both groups were legitimised by popular support in their respective countries and denied that Hezbollah was "a Syrian puppet."

On Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Assad said any solution would have to involve talks between the US and Europe and Syrian and Iran.

"The fact is that we (Syrians) live in this region, we know it well," he said, adding that Washington "needs our help" to formulate a plan for Iraq.

Assad said his government was ready to organize a peace summit in Iraq and criticized France's Middle East policy.

"We are ready to cooperate on a (Middle Eastern) peace initiative with Rome and Madrid, not with Paris, which has lost all reliability," Assad said.

Asked about the controversial Iranian-sponsored conference on the Holocaust, Assad said: "Europe has a complex about the Holocaust. We don't because we didn't do it."

© 2006 dpa German Press Agency