July 10, 2007 / 5:50 AM / 10 years ago

Olmert bids Assad direct talks, not through U.S

DUBAI (Reuters) - Israeli Premier Ehud Olmert in remarks aired on Tuesday offered Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to begin direct negotiations to make peace in the Middle East, and advised him not to wait for American mediation.

“Bashar al-Assad, you know that I am ready for direct talks with you,” Olmert told Al-Arabiya television.

“You (Assad) have been saying that you want the negotiations through the Americans. But they do not want to sit with you. I am ready to sit with you and talk about peace not war.”

Negotiations between Syria and Israel collapsed in 2000 without resolving the fate of the Golan Heights, a mountainous plateau occupied by Israel in 1967 and annexed in 1981 in a move declared null by the United Nations Security Council.

“I will be happy if I could make peace with Syria. I do no want to wage ware against Syria.”

Assad has repeatedly expressed interest in resuming talk with Israel through a third party.

A Syrian foreign ministry official said last week, Damascus was ready for talks without preconditions and said Israel and Syria had solved some 85 percent of the problem in past negotiations.

Syria said last month, if Israel made concessions in peace negotiations, it would cooperate directly with Washington in helping to curb violence in Iraq and change its nature of its relationship with its ally Iran, an enemy of Israel and the U.S.

The West, led by U.S. accuses Syria of backing insurgency in Iraq, and hosting militant Palestinian leaders on its grounds.

Analysts said Syria wants to regain the Golan now more than ever, after it was forced to withdraw its forces from Lebanon two years ago and U.S. led pressure on Damascus for its role in Iraq and Lebanon mounted.

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