August 15, 2006

Syria’s Assad blasts US plans for Mideast

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said
on Tuesday Hizbollah's "victory" in the recent war with Israel
had destroyed U.S. plans to reshape the Middle East.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier described
Assad's speech as a "negative contribution" and canceled a trip
to Syria planned for later in the day.

Assad also aimed sharp criticism at Israel and said peace
in the Middle East would remain elusive for the foreseeable

"Their 'New Middle East', based on subjugation and
humiliation, and denial of rights and identity, has turned into
an illusion," Assad said in reference to Washington's goal of
helping to shape what it calls a new, democratic Middle East.

"It is evident that after six years of this (U.S.)
administration that there is no peace and there will be none in
the foreseeable future," he told the Syrian Journalists Union
in his first public comments since the Israel-Hizbollah war.

Assad, 40, who is shaped by his late father's lifetime of
struggle against Israel, said the Jewish state must return Arab
land it has occupied since 1967, or face more insecurity.

"The Israeli leadership ... is in front of an historic
crossroads. Either it moves toward peace and gives back rights
or face constant instability until an (Arab) generation comes
and puts an end to the issue."

Syria, a key Hizbollah ally, wants the Lebanon war to lead
to a comprehensive peace settlement that addresses what
Damascus regards as the root of instability -- Israeli
occupation of Arab land, including the Syrian Golan Heights.


Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz said a resumption of
talks with Syria was still possible.

"Every war creates an opportunity for a new political
process. and I am sure that our enemies understand today they
cannot defeat us by force," he said.

"We must hold a dialogue with Lebanon, and we should create
the conditions for dialogue also with Syria."

Diplomats in Damascus, however, say the United States,
Israel's chief ally, and France show no sign of engaging Syria
in their diplomatic moves in the region.

Steinmeier said Assad's speech was a "negative contribution
that is not in any way justified in view of the current
challenges and opportunities in the Middle East."

"Syria can gain back the confidence of the international
community it has lost with positive and constructive action --
and on that basis pursue its legitimate interests," he said.
"The speech today ... goes in the opposite direction."

Negotiations between Syria and Israel over the Golan, a
1750 sq-km (676 square mile) mountainous plateau overlooking
Damascus, broke down in 2000.

"Israel has been trying for decades to gain acceptance in
the region. What Israel should know is that every generation
has more hatred toward it than the generation before," Assad

"Hatred is not a good word. We do not hate and we do not
encourage hatred. But Israel did not leave room in our region
except for hatred."

Hizbollah's actions would make Israel think twice before
pursuing "terrorist policies" in the region, he said.

"Israel was defeated in its war on Lebanon. It was defeated
on day one of its aggression," he said.

Israel launched an offensive on Lebanon after the Shi'ite
Lebanese group captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border
raid on July 12. A truce came into effect on Monday.