Syrian Envoy Says Onus Is on U.S., Israel

Syria's ambassador to the United States says Syria welcomes the apparent revival of interest in pursuing a Syrian-Israeli peace track coming out of the Annapolis Mideast conference, along with the Palestinian-Israeli track the meeting focused on.

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Syria's ambassador to the United States says Syria welcomes the apparent revival of interest in pursuing a Syrian-Israeli peace track coming out of the Annapolis Mideast conference, along with the Palestinian-Israeli track the meeting focused on.

The conference "was positive, putting some energy" into the Syrian dimension of forging a comprehensive peace with Israel, Imad Moustapha said in an interview with U.S. News. "Now the onus is on the Americans and the Israelis."

Syria had initially been reluctant to attend the Annapolis conference when the Bush administration resisted putting the issue of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights—its return is the core of any Syrian-Israeli deal—on the Annapolis agenda, said Moustapha.

But, Moustapha disclosed in the interview, after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in response to a direct Syrian request, agreed to a separate Syrian agenda item, Damascus agreed to participate. Syria is ready to participate in peace talks and is open to attending a follow-up international gathering that Russia is interested in organizing in Moscow early next year, the ambassador said. Still, he said that Syria has received "mixed signals" in recent months from Israel as to its interest in embarking on the Syrian peace track, and that so far "Israel refuses to engage with us." He added, "There is no military solution to this conflict."

The ambassador acknowledged that Syria's decision to participate in the U.S.-hosted Annapolis conference disappointed its friend Iran but that Syria needed to pursue its national interest.

"They [Iran] don't dictate on us. We don't dictate on them," he said. Moustapha also said that the Syrian delegation at Annapolis met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas shortly after the meeting and that the two delegations agreed that pursuing two tracks simultaneously "doesn't undermine" each other, as some Mideast watchers have contended.

—Thomas Omestad