Syria's al-Assad on visit to Austria

Syria's al-Assad on visit to Austria Vienna - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met his Austrian counterpart Heinz Fischer in Vienna Monday, at the start of a visit that was set focus not only on the situation in the Middle East, but also on bilateral economic ties. In his talks with Fischer, al-Assad was expected to discuss Syria's role in the region.

In an interview published Sunday in the Austrian daily Die Presse, the Syrian president said Israel has an "extremist, far-right government that does not support peace."

Damascus insists that Israel give back the occupied Golan Heights before peace talks between the two countries can start.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Sunday he was willing to hold talks with Syria, but without any prior conditions.

On the two-day visit, al-Assad was accompanied by his wife Asma al-Assad and a large business delegation.

Austria sees the Middle Eastern nation as a growth market amid the global economic downturn, with exports increasing by some 46 per cent in(dpa)