DUBAI (Reuters) - Israel must be prepared to return all Syrian lands occupied in the 1967 Middle East war as part of any peace deal between the two sides, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said in remarks published on Tuesday.
Briefing editors of United Arab Emirates newspapers during a visit to the Gulf Arab state, Assad also said U.S. sponsorship would be essential in the next stage of indirect talks launched last month under Turkish sponsorship.
“At this stage we are not talking (with Israel) about anything else. What is on the agenda is the return of all land,” al-Khaleej newspaper quoted Assad as saying during a visit on Monday. “In direct negotiations we will tackle the details which include the files of water and relations and other matters.
“As for water there are international rules that govern these matters and are usually referred to, but if the question of water is intended for (Syria to) give up the (condition on) 1967 borders that stretch to Tiberias then there will never be a compromise on the 1967 borders.”
Israel and Syria said last month they had launched indirect peace talks mediated by Turkish officials, the first negotiations between the two sides in eight years.
The last peace talks broke down in 2000 over control of the shore of the lake, from which Israel draws much of its water.
Syria says it had Israeli assurances through Turkey that the Jewish states would be willing to give back the Golan Heights in return for peace.
“The negotiations are in their primary stage. In later stages they would require international sponsorship especially from the United States, a superpower that has special ties with Israel,” al-Bayan newspaper quoted Assad as saying.
Many analysts say U.S. hostility to Syria makes a peace deal with Israel unlikely before President George W. Bush leaves office in January.
The United States said it did not object to talks but repeated its criticism of Syria’s “support for terrorism”.
Israel annexed the Golan in 1981 in a move condemned internationally. As well as strategic high ground, the fertile Golan Heights ensure Israeli control of important water resources in the arid region, land for vineyards, orchards and cattle-grazing.
Some 18,000 Israelis have moved to the Golan Heights and about 20,000 Syrians Druze live there. Israel gave the Druze the option of citizenship after annexing the territory but many rejected it.
Reporting by Inal Ersan; editing by Sami Aboudi