DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, (AP) – Syria’s president said the recently restarted peace talks between his government and Israel will eventually need U.S. sponsorship, according to an interview published in local papers Tuesday.
Israel and Syria have announced that they have resumed indirect peace talks through Turkish mediators.
“The negotiations in their preliminary stage will be conducted indirectly and do not need a sponsor. But in later stages they would require international sponsorship especially from the United States, a superpower that has special ties with Israel,” Al Ittihad newspaper quoted President Bashar Assad as saying.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that Washington has not yet been asked by Syria or Israel for a role in their talks and indicated that Washington wants for now to focus on the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, which the Bush administration helped to relaunch last year.
In the interview Assad also said that Israel must return all Syrian lands seized in the 1967 Middle East war as part of any peace deal.
Israel captured the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau, in the 1967 Mideast war and later annexed the area. Many Israelis are reluctant to relinquish the Golan, which overlooks northern Israel and borders the Sea of Galilee, a key source of drinking water.
Assad also denied that his country has a secret nuclear program. In September Israeli warplanes carried out airstrike against a Syrian site claiming that it was designed to produce atomic weapons.
On Monday the International Atomic Energy Agency said Syria would allow in U.N. inspectors to probe allegations that the country was building a nuclear reactor at the remote site.
“The site they attacked wasn’t a nuclear site,” Assad was quoted as saying. “If there are nuclear programs, why they didn’t ask for inspection instead of bombing.”
Assad is on a tour of the Gulf to consult with leaders on regional issues including the Arab-Israeli conflicts.