JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia (AFP) – Germany’s foreign minister has urged Syria to play a constructive role in the Middle East, after calling off a trip to Damascus over a fiery speech by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“We will have to wait for signals from Syria” showing whether Damascus is “prepared to reconsider the role it could play in the future,” Frank-Walter Steinmeier told reporters after talks in Jeddah with his Saudi counterpart Wednesday.
Syria must be involved in international efforts to bring peace to the region, but for this to happen, Damascus must demonstrate that it is prepared to be constructive, the German minister said.
Assad’s speech sent the wrong signals and did not aim to boost the Lebanese government, he said in a reference to his decision to cancel a scheduled trip to Syria Tuesday and fly directly from Jordan to Saudi Arabia.
Steinmeier changed his plans after Assad made a hard-hitting speech on Tuesday, his first since the month-long Israeli offensive against Lebanon began on July 12, in which he hailed Hezbollah for its fight against Israel and attacked Lebanese and Arab sides that did not support the Shiite militant group’s resistance.
Steinmeier said on Tuesday that Assad’s remarks were “a negative contribution which did no justice to the current challenges and opportunities in the Middle East.”
However, a Syrian foreign ministry source told AFP in Damascus the cancellation was due to “a difference in interpretation” on UN Security Council Resolution 1701 that ended hostilities this week but also calls for Hezbollah to be disarmed.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, whose country was one of those implicitly criticized by Assad, said he hoped Damascus would be careful to safeguard Arab unity.
Saud said Riyadh and Berlin share the hope that peace and stability will be established in the region, adding that Europe has an important role to play toward that end.
“The strengthening of the Lebanese government provides the way forward,” the Saudi minister said.
Prince Saud said Middle East peace talks should be restarted and tackle the real problems.
Steinmeier later flew back to Germany, where officials are mulling Berlin’s potential participation in a proposed 15,000-strong UN force in Lebanon.