DAMASCUS, Syria — Standing under a huge portrait of his late father, Bashar Assad assumed Syria's presidency before a cheering legislature Monday and quickly rejected Western-style democracy and territorial concessions to Israel.
Assad, a 34-year-old former eye doctor and the chosen successor of Hafez Assad, addressed parliament after a swearing-in ceremony that finalized his smooth ascent to power. He pledged to carry on his father's policies.
"We cannot apply the democracy of others on ourselves," he said in his inaugural address. "We have to have our democratic experience which is special to us, which stems from our history, culture, civilization and which is a response to the needs of our society and the requirements of our reality."
"The political strategy which [Hafez Assad] devised and supervised . . . proved a great success until this very day," he said.
Discussing Mideast peace, Bashar Assad said the recovery of the Golan Heights, which Israel captured in 1967, "is at the top of our national priorities." He urged the United States "to play its full role as an honest broker and a co-sponsor" of Israeli-Syrian peace talks.
He stressed that Syria will not deviate from his late father's rejection of any territorial compromises.
"We have the urge to reach a state of peace, but we have no urge to compromise an inch of our territory," he said.
In Thurmont, Md., State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said President Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright sent messages of congratulations to Assad. Clinton and Albright are attending Israeli-Palestinian negotiations at nearby Camp David.
Boucher said Albright also welcomed Assad's affirmation of Syria's interest in the Mideast peace process and his recognition of Washington's role.
In Jerusalem, Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh said, "If Bashar wants to take Syria to a new era of modernization and progress, the road goes necessarily through a peace agreement with Israel."
Sneh is a close advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.
Assad told Syrians that he will improve their lives by revitalizing the economy, reforming the administration and eliminating corruption.
Earlier, he arrived at parliament and was met by cheering crowds chanting, "With our blood and soul we sacrifice ourselves to you!"