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Syria wants talks on Iraq

President Bashar Assad, however, says Bush lacks the will and vision to achieve peace.

February 06, 2007|From the Associated Press

CAIRO — Syrian President Bashar Assad said in an interview aired Monday that U.S.-Syrian cooperation was the "last chance" to stop the violence in Iraq, but he said he wasn't optimistic that President Bush would talk to Damascus.

Assad told ABC's "Good Morning America" in an interview in Damascus, Syria's capital, that Bush administration officials were "not willing to achieve peace; they don't have the will and they don't have the vision."

In contrast, he praised Bush's father, President George H.W. Bush, who sponsored a 1991 Arab-Israeli peace conference that included Syria. Assad said the elder Bush had the "will to achieve peace."

The interview was the strongest attempt yet by Assad to overcome the president's rejection of a dialogue with Damascus on Iraq.

Bush has stepped up his criticism of Syria, accusing it of fueling the crises in Iraq and Lebanon.

Iraq's Shiite Muslim-led government also has spoken out against Syria, which it accuses of harboring fugitives who finance and support the Sunni-led insurgency. The government also accused Damascus of turning back Iraqis trying to flee their country and threatening to deport those already living in Syria.

Assad told ABC that Syria could play an important role in Iraq, contending that it had the trust of all sides, including those who "oppose [Iraq's] political process" -- a reference to Sunni Muslim insurgents.

He said the Syrians were not optimistic that the Bush administration would pursue diplomatic contacts despite pressure from Congress.

"I think it's too late for them to move toward that," Assad said. "It doesn't mean we can't turn the tide. But [it may be] too late because Iraqis are heading toward civil war. So maybe [this is] the last chance that we have now to start."

The U.S. bipartisan Iraq Study Group recommended in December that the Bush administration make diplomatic overtures to Syria and Iran to use their influence with Sunni and Shiite extremist groups to curb the violence and prevent the conflict from spilling over into the rest of the Middle East.

But the White House rejected the recommendation, deciding instead to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq.

Bush has also taken a more confrontational stance toward Iran, vowing to act against Tehran operatives in Iraq and beefing up the U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf.

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