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SYRIA: President Bashar Assad says Iran supported indirect Israel talks, denies Scud claims

May 28, 2010 |  9:18 am

Picture 13 Syrian President Bashar Assad delivered surprise answers in an interview Thursday night with talk-show host Charlie Rose, insisting his allies in Iran supported now-dormant peace efforts with Israel.

During the interview in Damascus, Assad spoke about the future of American-Syrian relations and his country's ties to Iran and the militant movements Hezbollah and Hamas.

According to a partial transcript posted online, Assad responded to American criticism of Syria's close relationship to Iran by accusing the U.S. to of "contradicting itself. "

"They talk about stability in the region," he said. "Stability starts with good relations. Iran supported our efforts to get back our land in 2008 when we had indirect peace negotiations [with Israel] in Turkey."

In late 2008, just before the Israeli war in Gaza, Syria revealed it had been engaged in Turkish-mediated indirect talks with Israel for the possible return of the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in 1967. Negotiations broke down after the Gaza war and subsequent face-offs over continued Israeli settlement building and Syria's support for Hezbollah.

Rose pressed Assad on the claim that Iran supported the negotiations. "Even though Iran says that it does not recognize Israel's right to exist, it was supportive when you were trying to negotiate with Israel?" he asked.

"Exactly," Assad said, according to the transcript posted by Bloomberg Businessweek.

This was Assad's second interview with Rose; the first was in 2006, about a year after the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon. (Watch the entire interview here.)

Assad went on to dismiss accusations by the Israeli government that Damascus has transferred sophisticated Scud missiles to Hezbollah, the militant Lebanese Shiite political movement.

"This is a very good story by the Israelis," Assad said, adding that the Israelis have no proof of their accusations.

Assad's claims contradict a report published in the Times of London on Friday based on satellite pictures that supposedly show a Hezbollah-controlled weapons cache outside Damascus. A spokesman for the Syrian Embassy in London rejected the report, saying that if such a depot existed, it would be for the sole use of the Syrian army.

Assad also warned that sanctions against Iran could backfire and cause the Islamic Republic to back out of an accord signed last week with Turkey and Brazil whereby Tehran would swap half of its enriched uranium for fuel to be used in its medical research reactor.

Regarding American-Syrian relations, Assad said he believes that President Obama "wants to do something positive," but said he was skeptical that "Congress will allow him to do what he wants."

Rose's interview with exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal from Damascus will air Friday night.

Meris Lutz in Beirut

Screenshot: Journalist Charlie Rose meets Syrian President Bashar Assad for the second time in Damascus. Credit: Meris Lutz

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