Syrian President Assad Defiant as Bush Visits Mideast
DAMASCUS, Syria – Syrian President Bashar Assad sounded a defiant note Wednesday as U.S. President George W. Bush neared a Mideast visit, amid reports that some in Washington want Syria's help in calming Iraq.
"Challenge is the most precious thing we possess, so we will keep challenging until we achieve our goals," Syrian official media quoted Assad as saying Wednesday.
The day before, his message was even sharper, although he did not refer directly to Bush.
"We send a message to every one that Arabs are no longer a herd that can be sold, bought and taken to the slaughterhouse," he said Tuesday in the speech in the southern city of Sweida, according to official media.
Bush was arriving late Wednesday in Jordan for a summit with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in a fresh attempt to put an end to violence in Iraq.
Bush also is awaiting recommendations on how to handle Iraq from the independent Iraq Study Group, which is widely expected to recommend engaging Syria and Iran as a way to calm war-torn Iraq.
On Tuesday, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan also suggested that Iran and Syria should work with the United States and the international community to resolve the conflict in Iraq.
But it remains unclear if Bush will agree to any such plan. He has spoken out harshly against both Syria and Iran in recent days, accusing them of malevolent aims in both Iraq and Lebanon.
Assad has not publicly mentioned the reports that some in Washinton are pushing for outreach to Syria.
But he said in his Wednesday speech, in an apparent reference to U.S. democracy efforts: "Colonialism has not ended. In the past they used to call it colonialism, today it is called liberation of people ... Names differ but the essence is the same. As colonialism continues, revolution and resistance continue."
Syrian commentators also have been disdainful of any possible U.S. outreach effort.
"They always come back to knock at the door of Damascus," wrote Mahdi Dakhlallah in the government newspaper Tishrin on Wednesday.
"Nobody will thank them if they knock at Damascus' doors. They should thank this great people who support its leadership," wrote Dakhlallah, a former information minister.
Earlier this month, Syria restored full diplomatic relations with Iraq after a break of more than 20 years, boosting hopes of a regional deal to help U.S. troops withdraw from Iraq.
Iraqi officials also have accused Syria of meddling in Iraqi affairs. They say Syria should help Iraqi government efforts to end violence, by securing the border and handing over to Iraq the insurgency leaders believed to be in Syria.
Syrian officials have repeatedly denied stirring trouble in Iraq and blame the spiraling violence on the nearly four year U.S. military presence in Iraq.
They also say they seek talks with Washington but have made it clear that Syria will not make concessions on key issues such Iraq, Lebanon or the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.