Syria — EU’s gateway to the Middle East

Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, who arrives in Athens on an official visit today, represents a promising new generation of Arab leaders. Assuming power in summer 2000 after the death of this father, the historic Syrian leader Hafez Al Assad, he initiated a series of reforms based on development and modernization. Well informed about the West – he did postgraduate medical studies in Britain – Al Assad has built bridges through his visits to a number of European countries. Recently, a rare interview with the Western press, which was published in The New York Times, made international news because he recommended resuming peace talks with Israel, despite the fact that Ariel Sharon’s government had bombed a Palestinian camp on the outskirts of Damascus two months earlier. On December 7, the Syrian president received two Kathimerini journalists, Nikos Konstandaras and Petros Papaconstantinou, at the presidential mansion in Damascus. He gave the impression of a modern political leader, ready to give clear answers to all kinds of questions, with a definite vision for his country and the challenges facing the Arab world. In the following interview Al Assad: – Expresses optimism for a partnership agreement between Syria and the European Union and the conviction that his country can become a gateway from Greece to the Middle East. – Confirms his willingness to resume peace talks with Israel on condition the latter cease occupying Palestinian and Syrian territory. – Makes specific proposals for the restoration of Iraq’s sovereignty, while emphasizing that his country does not consider the United States to be a hostile country and expressing the wish that voices of reason in the American administration will prevail.