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Deiss says Assad optimistic about Mideast peace

The Swiss foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, has held talks with Syria's president, Hafez Al-Assad, and the Syrian foreign minister, Farouq Al-Shara. The talks in Damascus focused on the deadlocked Middle East peace process.

This content was published on March 1, 2000 - 08:49

The Swiss foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, has held talks with Syria's president, Hafez Al-Assad, and the Syrian foreign minister, Farouq Al-Shara. The talks in Damascus focused on the deadlocked Middle East peace process.

Deiss later told a news conference that Assad had appeared optimistic about the future of the peace process.

"I asked him whether he was optimistic or pessimistic over the negotiations with Israel, and I can say that I found him more optimistic," said Deiss.

He said he had conveyed to Assad Switzerland's support for the Syrian demand of a complete Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, which it captured in 1967. Deiss pointed out that the fourth Geneva Convention forbids the colonisation of occupied territories. But he also told Assad that Israel had a right to existence and security.

Deiss, who earlier visited Swiss military observers monitoring the ceasefire on the Golan Heights, said Switzerland was ready to mediate between Israel and Arab countries.

Negotiations between Syria and Israel broke down in January, just weeks after they resumed for the first time in almost four years. Syria says it will only return to the table if Israel provides guarantees that it will withdraw from the Golan Heights.

Israel says it is only prepared to resume negotiations if normalisation and security top the agenda. Syria backs Hezbollah guerrillas fighting to end Israel's occupation of southern Lebanon.

Deiss will travel to Lebanon today, where he is scheduled to hold talks with the Lebanese president, Emile Lahoud. He is also expected to sign a bilateral agreement on the protection and promotion of investments.

From staff and wire reports

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