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ARAB-US RELATIONS - Apr 4 - Pelosi Says Israel Open To Syrian Talks.

The speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, says that she had relayed a message from Israel's PM Ehud Olmert to Syria's Pres Bashar al-Assad that Israel is ready for peace talks. The Syrian Pres had told her that he was, "ready to engage in negotiations for peace with Israel", she told reporters. However in a statement following Ms Pelosi's remarks in Damascus, Olmert's office stressed there had been no change in Israel's policy towards Syria. During her recent visit to Jerusalem, Olmert had emphasised that "although Israel is interested in peace with Syria, that country continues to be part of the axis of evil and a force that encourages terror in the entire Middle East". The Speaker, a Democrat and an opponent of Pres George W. Bush's decision to boost troop numbers in Iraq, spoke at a press conference as she finished her two-day visit to Syria that has been heavily criticised by the White House. Bush had earlier said that the visit by the third most-senior elected American official was "counterproductive" as his administration was trying to isolate Syria over the country's alleged support for militant groups in the region. Mrs Pelosi said that during her visit to Damascus she had also pressed the Syrian Pres to cease his support for groups such as the Palestinian Hamas and Hizbullah in Lebanon. She and her colleagues had, "expressed our concern about Syria's connections to Hizbullah and Hamas". The delegation had also brought up the issue of fighters allegedly crossing from Syria into Iraq. A statement from Pres Assad's office on the conclusion of Ms Pelosi's visit did not refer to Olmert's offer of peace talks. It did note Syria's "keenness" to achieve regional peace and it noted the US role in the peace process between Israel and its neighbours. Deputy FM Faisal Mekdad earlier this week told the Financial Times that, "reticence on the Israeli part" had prevented the resumption of the peace process in the past". He added that, "the most important thing if the Israeli government wants to be sincere, is that they have to accept the Arab peace initiative and they have to resume the peace process on that basis and on the basis of the UN security council resolution and on the terms of the Madrid peace conference". The Israel statement said: In order to conduct serious and genuine peace negotiations, Syria must cease its support of terror, cease its sponsoring of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad organisations, refrain from providing weapons to Hizbullah and bringing about the destabilising of Lebanon, cease its support of terror in Iraq, and relinquish the strategic ties it is building with the extremist regime in Iran". Olmert had clarified that by these measures Israel would determine whether Syria was sincere about attaining a genuine peace, the statement said.
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Publication:APS Diplomat Recorder
Date:Apr 7, 2007
Words:471
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