Syrian President Bashar Assad confirmed that Syria has been conducting secret negotiations with Israel in recent years, as reported by Haaretz in January.
In an interview published yesterday in the Saudi newspaper Al-Jazira, Assad said that international envoys had shuttled between Syria and Israel, carrying each country’s point of view regarding peace to the other. The contacts were conducted through a non-official channel, via former Foreign Ministry director general Dr. Alon Liel and Syrian-American businessman Ibrahim Suleiman.
Advertisement - story continues below
In the interview, Assad confirmed that one of the negotiators had a double nationality. “There were American and European officials. I wouldn’t say there were Arab officials, but there may have been Arabs living in the West, holding double nationalities,” he said.
Assad added that nothing concrete had come out of the talks, especially as “the current Israeli government is the weakest in Israel’s history… There’s an American administration without a vision, and the U.S. administration, unfortunately, is central to all peace processes in the region,” he added.
He also called the United States the main obstacle to a Middle East peace. The Syrian president indicated he was aware of the ongoing debate among the Israeli public over the possibility of peace with Syria, but said it was not enough. “The discussion about peace has picked up lately, but it is not yet active. It’s hard to say whether talk will turn into action, but it should be determined in the coming months,” Assad said.
At another point in the interview, though, Assad said that he did not expect movement on the peace process in the next two years. Since the end of the second Lebanon war, Syrian officials have stated that Damascus was interested in engaging in negotiations with Israel, stressing that the alternative to peace was war. Assad reiterated this theory, warning that delays in the peace process only served to heighten regional tensions.