Syria says ready for unconditional talks with Israel

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said on Tuesday that Damascus is ready to resume unconditional peace talks with Israel, at a press conference with his Danish counterpart Per Stig Moeller.“We engaged in negotiations with Israel for 10 years,” Muallem said. “Syria is ready to resume these in accordance with what has been achieved” during previous Syrian-Israeli talks, which have been stalled since January 2000.

“We are in favour of achieving a peace which is fair and in accordance with United Nations resolutions,” he added.

US-brokered peace talks broke down in 2000 over disagreements on the Golan Heights, the strategic plateau that Israel seized during the 1967 Six Day War and unilaterally annexed in 1981.

Last month, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert played down during a White House visit the possibility of an immediate resumption of peace talks with Syria.

Olmert, at a news conference with US President George W. Bush, said Syrian President Bashar Al Assad wanted to impose preconditions to talks, including making Bush a mediator.

“The Syrian leader said that he is against any preconditions from the Israeli side,” Olmert said. “But he is certainly for preconditions from the Syrian side.” Muallem on Tuesday denied Syria was trying to dictate terms for a resumption of talks.

“Syria is not imposing any conditions for making peace with Israel,” he said.

“There is a difference between conditions and requirements for peace. These are stipulated by the UN Security Council resolutions” which call for the withdrawal of Israel from the occupied Arab territories, said the minister.

Israel’s Yediot Aharonot newspaper reported on June 8 that Olmert had secretly sent messages to Assad offering a full withdrawal from the Golan in exchange for Syria abandoning its quarter-century alliance with Israeli arch foe Iran and expelling Lebanese and Palestinian fighters.

Two Israeli Cabinet ministers confirmed 10 days ago that the government has approached Syria indirectly about the possibility of renewing peace talks.

Muallem declined to comment on Washington’s latest measures against the Damascus regime after the White House barred a number of Syrians and Lebanese accused of destabilising Lebanon from entering the United States.

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