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Last Updated: Monday, 9 October 2006, 13:47 GMT 14:47 UK
Syria: US lacks Mid-East vision
Syria's President Bashar al-Assad
President Assad said the West was making Syria a "scapegoat"

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said the United States does not have "the will or vision" to pursue peace in the Middle East.

In a BBC interview, President Assad said Syria was prepared to hold talks with Israel but he said there needed to be "an impartial arbiter".

He said there was no sign the Americans were prepared to play this role.

President Assad acknowledged Syria and Israel could live side-by-side in peace accepting each other's existence.

The current US administration has said Syria is a member of what it has called an axis of evil.

We condemn every single attack against the civilians and the innocent in Iraq
Bashar al-Assad

President Assad suggested President Bush could not be an impartial umpire and said no direct dialogue had taken place between the two nations.

"How can you talk about peace and at the same time isolation? How can you talk about peace and you adopt the doctrine of pre-emptive war?" he asked.

The implementation of UN resolutions by all parties - Syria, Israel, America, the UN and EU - was the only way to achieve peace, Mr Assad said.

Pointing the finger

In the wide-ranging interview, the Syrian president said the West was too ready to blame Syria for problems in the Middle East.

He said the reality and the perception of his country were two different things but that it suited the outside world to point the finger at Syria.

BBC World Affairs Editor John Simpson
The BBC's John Simpson filmed the rare interview in Damascus

Following the US-led invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, Mr Assad said the West had accused Syria of supporting terrorism to make it "a scapegoat" and to "absolve themselves from any responsibility".

Washington has also accused Syria of backing Hamas and Hezbollah in Lebanon, organisations it views as a terrorist groups. However, President Assad said public support for such groups had to be taken into account.

"As long as they [Hezbollah] are effective on the ground among the people you have to deal with them.

"When they have the support of the people you cannot label them as terrorists because this way you label the people as terrorists," he said.

As far as Iraq is concerned, he insisted that Syria did not support any insurgent attacks, but added that "as a concept" resistance was the right of the people.

Syria has also been accused of allowing insurgents to pass across the border with Iraq, but President Assad said the accusations were untrue.

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