Israel Calls on Syria to Reopen Peace Talks

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called on Syrian President Bashar Assad to reopen peace talks between the two countries in an interview published Tuesday.

Israel had already appealed to Syria to open negotiations, but Syria insisted that talks be mediated by the Americans, who are not interested, Olmert said.

"The Americans don't want to sit with him," Olmert told the Arab satellite TV channel, Al-Arabiya, according to an excerpt of the interview broadcast by Israel's Channel 10 TV. "I am willing to sit with him if he is willing to sit with me. We'll talk about peace."

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Assad has called for the reopening of peace talks with Israel, but Olmert has rebuffed the offer as a Syrian attempt to win favor with the United States. Olmert has insisted Assad stop sponsoring militant groups opposed to Israel's existence, the Lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian Hamas, if he wants to prove he is serious about peace with Israel.

Israeli Public Security Minister Avi Dichter said Tuesday that Olmert indeed wants to resume talks with Syria and his offer was "genuine and real." But Dichter was not optimistic that Assad would agree to renew the talks, especially because he is allied with Iran, Israel's greatest enemy.

"Bashar Assad apparently has other plans than making peace with Israel," Dichter told Army Radio. "And now we will listen and wait."

Asked about an apparent softening in Olmert's position on Syria, Dichter said Israel had not formed a firm stance but would if the matter became more relevant.

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