Sharon says ready for Syria peace talks

09 May 2003
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on 8 May indicated that he was ready to begin peace talks with Syria without preconditions. Speaking on Israeli television, Sharon said: 'I support establishing talks with all Arab countries without preconditions -The Syrians will, of course, have demands on us, and we will have, for sure, demands on them. We are ready to sit down and discuss these issues.' However, he said that Israel would wait to make any approach until US pressure had been brought to bear on Syria. 'We must wait a number of weeks to not interfere with American pressure on Syria for necessary steps for the security of Israel.' Washington has been urging Damascus to close down the offices of Palestinian militant groups in Syria and to withdraw its troops from Lebanon.

The last peace negotiations between Syria and Israel broke down in 2000 over the Golan Heights. A potential stumbling block to their restart is that Syria wants to pick up where they left off, while Israel wants to return to the beginning, with all issues up for negotiation. Israel's Maariv daily recently reported a secret meeting between President Asad's brother and an Israeli businessman in Jordan, before the Iraq war began, to discuss reopening peace talks. However, the Syrian Foreign Ministry denied this. 'It [the Syrian government] has always displayed a willingness to return to negotiations on the ground set through Madrid [1990 peace conference], UN resolutions and the land-for-peace formula,' Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Buthaina Shaaban told reporters on 7 May. 'This stance has not changed.'

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