Peaceful. Assad
Photo: AP

Assad: Mideast peace in 2008 unlikely

Syrian president talks to Austrian newspaper, says Syria passed on opportunity to have nuclear weapons, achieving actual progress in the Middle East peace process in 2008 unlikely

Syrian president Bashar Assad said Wednesday his country rebuffed a possible approach from Pakistani-led traffickers in nuclear arms technology in 2001.


In an interview with Austrian daily Die Presse, Assad said an unnamed person delivered a letter to Syria – purportedly from A.Q. Khan, the now-disgraced father of Pakistan's atom bomb, who supplied Iran, Libya and North Korea with nuclear parts and know-how.


"At the beginning of 2001 someone brought us a letter from a certain Khan. We did not know if the letter was genuine or a forgery by Israel to lure us into a trap," Assad was quoted as saying.


"In any case, we rejected (the approach). We were not interested in having nuclear weapons or a nuclear reactor. We never met Khan."


Israel bombed a suspected Syrian nuclear site in September, which Damascus said it was a minor military building.


Western analysts who examined satellite imagery of the Syrian site targeted by Israeli warplanes said it may have contained a nuclear reactor under construction similar to North Korean design.


"This was a military facility under construction. Since it was a military facility, I can't give details. But that does not mean that this was a nuclear facility...," Assad said.


Syria has said it is hiding nothing from International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors, which have also studied before-and-after commercial aerial photos of the site and asked Syria for explanations.


Diplomats close to the IAEA said Syria has not replied and the pictures alone were unlikely to yield conclusions.


'Peace in 2008 unlikely'

Achieving Middle East peace in 2008 looks unrealistic because the United States would be preoccupied with the presidential election, Assad told the paper.


"It is perhaps too late to talk about peace in the last year of this US Administration. It will be preoccupied with elections.


"Annapolis was a one-day event. It will all depend on follow-up efforts. We have to be optimistic, although cautious."


Syria said the Annapolis meeting, attended by other Arab countries, revived its bid to recover the occupied Golan Heights from Israel although there were no direct talks between the two adversaries.


Assad said Syria and Israel went 80% of the way towards peace in talks on a hand-back of the Golan in 2000, before the talks collapsed.


"Now a referee is needed. The United States above all, naturally with support from the EU and UN; but without the US, nothing will work," he was quoted as saying.


US Policy in the region, which Arabs have long regarded as misguided due to a perceived pro-Israel tilt, was changing in form although not yet in substance, he added.


פרסום ראשון: 12.19.07, 15:18
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