In the interview, Assad disclosed that a series of European, American and Arab envoys had come to Syria in an effort to mediate between Jerusalem and Damascus. But he denied that any serious negotiations had taken place.
It seems likely that Assad's comments refer to the unofficial contacts between former Israeli Foreign Ministry director-general Dr Alon Liel and the Syrian-American businessman Ibrahim (Abe) Suleiman. "Senior personalities came to Syria, Americans and Europeans… Maybe they were Arabs who live in the West and hold dual citizenship. We cannot tell who is an Arab and who is a foreigner. In any case, these personalities came to us and said that it is necessary to move the peace process between us and Israel forward.
"These delegations heard our opinions and passed them on to Israel," explained Assad, "while other people went to Israel and then came to Syria with Israeli opinions. But in practice no serious contacts took place," in part because "the present Israeli government is the weakest in Israel's history.
"The envoys reported to us that Olmert said that 'the decision (to renew peace talks) would be made in Washington,'" Assad continued. "The present American administration has declared on more than one occasion that it is not interested in a peace process. Under such conditions, we do not see any signs of an imminent renewal of the peace process. Although references to peace have become intensive lately, what we have is still just words. Will we move from words to deeds? It's hard to tell, at least in the coming months."
'Each generation becomes more distant from peace'
The Syrian president was asked by his Saudi interlocutor whether delays in finding a political solution in the Middle East did not complicate the situation because they allowed Israel "to continue its programs to erase the Syrian-Arab identity of the occupied territories."
Assad responded that, "the time factor is therefore very important … Each new generation is more distant from peace. The Israelis make the mistake of believing that each new generation will find it easier to make concessions to Israel for the sake of peace, whereas the truth is just the opposite. Delays result in tensions that result in extremism. That's why we in Syria have always believed that peace is the easiest, quickest and fastest way to achieve a stable future for the region."
According to Assad, "we have not yet completely lost hope, though perhaps we have lost faith in a particular government or administration. I am not optimistic about the peace process in the coming two years, but I cannot completely lose hope in the peace process, because when that happens you must turn in the direction of war, whether you want to or not… That's why we say: the situation does not look rosy for the next two years, but we must prepare ourselves so that the next stage is a stage of peace."
Syria has been establishing ever-closer economic, diplomatic and military relations with Iran, especially in recent months. The two countries have upgraded their military cooperation and signed a series of memoranda. Assad has indicated that this process is taking place against the backdrop of a sense in Damascus that Syria is under threat from the United States and Israel.
"Iran is a neighboring country, large and regionally important. Positive relations between an Arab country and Iran serve the interests of the region. The same is true of Arab relations with Turkey," the Syrian leader explained. He added that the relationship between Teheran and Damascus has historical roots. "Syria will not forget that (after the revolution) Iran transformed the Israeli embassy (in Teheran) into the Palestinian embassy. And Iran will not forget that Syria stood at her side when Saddam Hussein waged war against her."