Damascus – Syria was ready to improve relations with Saudi Arabia and Egypt, but would not take part in the US-sponsored Annapolis peace conference, President Bashar Assad said in an interview with Tunisia’s Ash-Shrouk newspaper published by Syrian papers Thursday.Assad said Syrian relations with both countries were ‘not as they should be,’ and that ‘Syria doesn’t mind making an initiative to improve these relations.’

Damascus’ relations with longtime US allies Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan have been cool, partly over what they see as Syria’s role in promoting Iranian interests in the Arab world.

‘It’s in Syria’s interest to have Arab solidarity … to discuss what we should do, especially with regards to the next months,’ which would shape the country’s destiny, Assad said.

He said his country would send envoys to Arab countries soon to discuss the recent non-binding US Senate resolution that proposed a reshaping of Iraq into three sectarian or ethnic territories, underlining the need to assist Iraq to face the resolution.

Assad also said his country would not take part in the US- sponsored November peace conference as Syria would ‘not participate in a conference that lacks the chances of success.’

Assad also says that the Golan must be included on the agenda if the U.S. wants Syria’s participation. Full article here. Of course, Syria’s position on the Peace Conference comes within weeks after Israel’s recent air strike on Syria:

On September 6, Israeli war planes entered Syrian airspace. Syria initially claimed that the planes fled after being engaged by Syrian air defenses, dumping their ammunition on a deserted area. While Israel has remained largely silent over the incident, U.S. and British media sources, citing U.S. and Israeli officials, report that a successful military strike took place. Israeli opposition party leader Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to confirm these claims in a television interview on September 19. On October 1, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad admitted that a strike had taken place, saying that Israeli jets had struck an unused military building. Reports, however, have suggested that the target of the raid was either a shipment of arms from Iran to Hezbollah or a nuclear installation being constructed by Syria with the assistance of North Korea. Syria and North Korea both deny these claims.

Full article here. Complicating matters is the report that the Bush administration, which apparently had been briefed by Israel prior to the air strike, has an internal disagreement over how to proceed with Syria:

A sharp debate is under way in the Bush administration about the significance of the Israeli intelligence that led to last month’s Israeli airstrike inside Syria, the New York Times reported Wednesday.

At issue is whether intelligence that Israel presented months ago to the White House — to support claims that Syria had begun early work on what could become a nuclear weapons program with help from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) — was conclusive enough to justify military action by Israel and a possible rethinking of American policy toward the two nations.

U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and conservative hawks in the Bush administration have been portraying the Israeli intelligence as credible and arguing that it should cause the U.S. to reconsider its diplomatic overtures to Syria and the DPRK.

By contrast, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her allies within the administration have said they do not believe that the intelligence presented so far merits any change in the American diplomatic approach.

Full article here.