Assad: Peace talks with Israel could be completed in 6 months
Syrian president: Syria moving troops from border with Iraq and redeploying them along Lebanon border.
Syrian President Bashar Assad said in an interview published Monday that he believes that if peace talks with Israel were to resume from where they left off, they could conclude within as little as six months.
In an interview with Spain's El Pais newspaper, Assad reiterated his desire to conduct peace negotiations with Israel, and expressed his belief that Middle East peace talks should be revived, and that the achievement of an "encompassing and just" peace agreement would serve as a permanent solution to the area's recurring problems.
Assad continued, saying the international community "must have faith in Syria" that it will guard its border with Lebanon. However, Assad said that he cannot make an oath to halt all arms smuggling from Syria into Lebanon.
No military or international body can stop Hezbollah from smuggling weapons into Lebanon, he said.
"If there is a real desire to smuggle [weapons], neither Security Council resolutions nor surveillance nor the whole armies of the world can prevent this," he said.
Hezbollah is widely believed to have received weapons and other support from its backers, Syria and Iran.
After the 34-day war between Hezbollah and Israel that ended on August 14, Israel said it wanted international troops to deploy on the Lebanon-Syrian border to enforce a halt in weapons shipments.
Syria strongly rejected the idea, warning it would close the border with Lebanon.
Assad said other nations "should have faith in Syria" over controlling its borders.
Syrian troops move to Lebanese borderSyria has, however, increased the number of troops on its border with Lebanon by moving forces from its eastern border with Iraq, Assad said.
"We have strengthened the border with Lebanon, but of course, this made us move parts of our forces guarding the border with Iraq to the border with Lebanon," Assad said.
The move appeared to be an effort to appease international requests but likely would increase criticism from the United States and Iraqi governments, which have long accused Syria of not doing enough to stop insurgents crossing into Iraq to fight U.S. troops.
Syria denies the allegation, saying it is impossible to fully control the long desert border it shares with Iraq.
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said during his recent trip to the Middle East that Assad had assured him that Damascus was prepared to delineate its border with Lebanon.
Assad also affirmed to Annan that Syria was willing to increase the number of guards along the border with Lebanon, as well as give them more training and supplies.
Annan repeated that Syria had promised to deploy a battalion to the border with Lebanon.
In the El Pais interview, Assad also said the U.S. "was not a fair co-sponsor" of the stalled Middle East peace process and called on Europe to take an active role.
"Regrettably there is not another international power that can replace it [the U.S.], and at the same time, the United States should not be alone, and here is where Europe's role comes in," he said.