After Lieberman remarks, Assad repeats Syria demand for Golan
Syria president: We can talk about peace when Israel recognizes our right to the territory.
Syrian President Bashar Assad repeated Monday his country's demand for the return of the Golan Heights after Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Sunday that Syria should drop the demand as a precondition to peace talks.
"What is important is that the Golan is our territory, it is our right. It must be returned to us without fail," Assad said during a brief news conference after talks with his Austrian counterpart on a two-day visit to Vienna. "The Israeli government is not ready to give back the Golan. But Syria enjoys worldwide support for its right to recover the Golan. That is not being ... taken seriously [by Israel]... We can talk about peace when this principle is recognised."
Syria says that Israel, which captured the strategic plateau in the 1967 Six Day War and annexed it in a step not recognized internationally, is legally required under United Nations resolutions to return the Golan along with other occupied Arab territory.
Lieberman said on Sunday he would be happy to negotiate with Syria, "but without preconditions and without ultimatums".
Assad did not refer to Lieberman's remarks, or Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's vow on the election trail not to relinquish the Golan.
"No government [except Israel] has declared loudly than it does not want peace...[Netanyahu's government] has also rejected the principle of a two-state solution [for Palestinians in Israeli-occupied territory]," Assad continued. "[But] we will strive with our European friends and the U.S. administration for a peace action plan."
"We see a new optimistic mood in the world. It may not last long. We need to convert this optimism into action," he concluded.
Lieberman said Israel's less-than-month-old government was still drafting foreign policy positions, but made clear he saw Syria's fundamental demand for the Golan as debatable.
Netanyahu's centrist predecessor, Ehud Olmert, held indirect talks with Syria through Turkish mediators. Syria froze those contacts in protest at Israel's January war in Gaza, but has since signaled willingness to resume talks.
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