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Syria Willing to Work Toward Peace

August 7, 2000

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) _ Syrian President Bashar Assad told a U.S. envoy Sunday that Syria will be willing to work toward a fair and comprehensive Middle East peace when ``other parties are ready,″ the president’s spokesman said.

Assad and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Edward Walker, who is on a tour of Arab nations, also discussed developing the Syrian-U.S. relationship, presidential spokesman Jubran Kourieh said.

``The president asserted that Syria now, as in the past, is keen on achieving just and total peace in the light of the U.N. resolutions, and that it’s willing to work in that direction when the other parties are ready for that,″ he said, referring to Israel.

Syrian-Israeli peace negotiations broke off in January with Syria seeking an Israeli pledge it would withdraw from the Golan Heights to 1967 pre-war borders. Israel is interested in retaining some of the land and wanted assurances on what it would get in return for a withdrawal before discussing borders.

Walker is the first U.S. official to visit Syria since Bashar took office after the June death of his father, President Hafez Assad. Walker offered the U.S. administration’s congratulations to Bashar on his presidency, Kourieh said.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright attended Hafez Assad’s funeral and had met briefly then with Bashar Assad, offering her country’s condolences.

Earlier Sunday, Walker met with Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa, who said peace agreements in the area must guarantee Palestinians’ rights and ensure complete Israeli withdrawal from all land occupied in 1967, including east Jerusalem.

Walker was dispatched to the region for a two-week tour of 14 Arab nations after the collapse of last month’s Israeli-Palestinian summit at Camp David, Md.

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