Diplomats: Assad says he won't restrain arming of Hezbollah
'I am not Israel's bodyguard,' Syrian president reportedly tells European foreign ministers.
Syrian President Bashar Assad has told a number of European foreign ministers and senior diplomats this month that he would not lift a finger to restrain Hezbollah's arming in Lebanon. "I am not Israel's bodyguard," he reportedly said.
The future of Syria's relations with Iran and Hezbollah is one of the main subjects Israel has raised in its indirect negotiations with Syria. Assad's remarks show no willingness for a concession to Israel on this issue, let alone an overall change of policy.
Israel claims that Iran is smuggling rockets and other weapons to Hezbollah through Syria, and that the Syrian army is even arming the organization.
Both front-running candidates for prime minister, Tzipi Livni and Benjamin Netanyahu, say Syria must show a willingness to act against the smuggling.
An Israeli government source cited reports in recent weeks from three European officials who met with Assad. On the one hand, the officials said their impression was that the Syrian president was serious about negotiations, but that Assad's positions remained uncompromising.
The source said Assad told the Europeans that Syria was willing to take significant steps in talks with Israel only after an Israeli declaration that it would withdraw from the entire Golan Heights.
Assad also transmitted the message that despite continuing indirect talks through Turkey, between himself and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, he sees no possibility of progress before the Israeli elections in February.
Olmert will be leaving Monday for a dinner meeting with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to discuss talks with Syria.