Syrian President Bashar Assad will visit India in several days, where he hopes to harness India's influence in favor of the Middle East peace process. In an interview with the Indian newspaper The Hindu, Assad said he believed India could help "restore some needed balance" to the peace process.
Assad addressed the recently renewed indirect peace talks between Israel and Syria. When asked what Damascus could offer Jerusalem should Israel cede the Golan Heights, he replied: "Syrian land is occupied by Israel so they have to give it back…We don’t have something to give but we have something to achieve together, which is peace.
"The other thing besides the land is discussing normal relations, water, security arrangements and all these details that are related to the concept of peace. This is something we achieve together, but Israel has the land and should give it back."
As for the Israeli demand that Syria relinquish its relations with Hamas and Hizbullah, the Syrian president said that "the Israelis have been talking about negotiations without pre-conditions. They cannot ask for conditions and they have not done so.
"Hamas is related to the Palestinian track and we are not responsible for that. Hizbullah is part of the Lebanese track and we are not in Lebanon today. We are only talking about the Syrian track."
'80% of the issues concluded'
Israel, he added has learned that "without peace Israel cannot be safe. I think this is true especially after the (Second) Lebanon War and because of the result of that war inside the Israeli society; this is the main incentive for the Israelis to move toward peace."
Jimmy Carter, said the Hindu, stated recently that 80% of the issues between Israel and Syria have been resolved back in former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's administration.
"We achieved a lot during Rabin's days," Assad agreed, "But everything stopped when he was assassinated… We have been asking to restart (the talks) from where they were stopped during Rabin. We talked about the security arrangements, which were the most difficult issue. Of course, we had Rabin's assurance that Israel would be giving back the Golan Heights back to the June 1967 line.
"We were about to talk about other issues, like normal relations and having embassies, but did not discuss water," said Assad.
When asked about Israel's attack on Syria's nuclear facility in Syria in September, Assad remained ambiguous: "The (real) question is why Israel announced (the attack) seven months after it happened. Why didn't it announce it at that time, in order to send a delegation from the International Atomic Energy Agency to see what is happening?
"Let me put it this way: Israel said there was a nuclear facility that they bombed and that it had evidence. How could they not have had this evidence seven months ago? Why do they have it now? Because after seven months you can say that Syria built a facility, it was demolished and now it has have rebuilt it in a different way. If they had this alleged evidence at that time, their story would not have been proved genuine or credible."
Assad refused to specify what kind of military facility was built on the premises, saying only it "was not a nuclear one." Israel bombed the site, he said, because "it had the wrong information." The satellite images of a North Korean-made plutonium-producing reactor, he said, were "100% fabricated."
Assad was then asked about the role he sees India play in the international area in general and in the Middle East peace process: "The question is what role India can play in the world, especially regarding our issues, like the peace issue. How can we cooperate? India and China should play a role in reestablishing balance that we have missed for almost 20 years?"
"India can play a direct role between the two sides, Syria and Israel, and the Palestinians and Israel," concluded Assad. "That will make the region more stable, and that will affect India itself in the long run and the world at large, especially Asia."