DAMASCUS, Syria – Syria denounced Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's proposal for a new Arab-Israeli peace conference, with the ruling party newspaper Tuesday calling it a "dirty maneuver that is totally rejected."
Lebanese officials also expressed their rejection of the proposal. The two countries' participation in such a conference would be crucial.
Secretary of State Colin Powell, who is shuttling around the region on a peace mission, raised the idea Monday during a talks in Damascus with Syrian President Bashar Assad and in Lebanon, where Syria dominates the government.
In its editorial, Al-Baath newspaper, run by Syria's ruling party, said Sharon's actions have "destroyed all possible chances to revive the peace process in the Middle East" and "his suspicious call to convene a new international conference on peace in the Middle East would never change this fact."
Another official paper, the Syria Times, said Sharon's call is an "attempt to push the process back to zero point, thinking that he might abolish all that has been achieved during the past 11 years and restarting bargaining that could take another 11 years."
Lebanese Refugee Affairs Minister Marwan Hamadeh said Lebanon rejected Sharon's proposal. Powell left "with a clear no to a new peace conference," Hamadeh told Lebanon's Future television Tuesday.
Sharon suggested a regional peace conference to Powell at a meeting Sunday. A 1991 international conference in Madrid, in which Syria participated, launched an ambitious, but now foundering, Mideast peace process.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher said any conference must be based on previous peace talks. The Madrid conference "has laid very important principles that must be preserved," Maher was quoted as saying by Al-Gumhuria newspaper. He said Egypt had not been officially notified of Sharon's proposal but that it welcomes all efforts.
Syria and Lebanon are the last of Israel's Arab neighbors without peace deals with Israel. Egypt and Jordan signed treaties with Israeli in 1979 and 1994, respectively.
Russia and the European Union, meanwhile, said Tuesday that any peace conference should not hold up implementation of a U.N. resolution calling for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the West Bank and an end to Palestinian terrorism.
"The resolutions ... should be immediately implemented in total," Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told a press conference in Luxembourg, where he met EU officials.
"What we now need to focus on ... the compliance with U.N. Security Council resolutions," said Foreign Minister Josep Pique of Spain, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency.