Syria: We'll Talk, but Without Preconditions

Syria is ready to negotiate peace with Israel but refuses preconditions for the talks, Deputy Foreign Minister Ahmad Arnous said yesterday.

"Syria is prepared to resume talks, without any conditions, according to the land-for-peace principle and to achieve stability and security in the region," Arnous said following a meeting yesterday with Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis in Damascus.

This was the first Syrian reaction to reports of Israel's wish to renew peace talks.

Arnous emphasised Syria's eagerness to strike a deal that would return the Golan Heights, captured by Israel in 1967.

"President Bashar Assad has been frank and clear about Syria's willingness to resume negotiations according to the Madrid principles and international resolutions," Arnous said.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has hinted that Israel would consider withdrawing from the Golan, but is demanding in return that Syria sever its strategic ties with Iran and end its support for Hezbollah and Palestinian militant groups. The official public line in Syria is that Israel's declarations regarding possible talks are contradictory and not serious.

Arnous added that Syria was "in favor of any dialogue with the U.S. administration." However, Washington has maintained a policy of trying to isolate Syria for its role in undermining Lebanon's government, its support for Hezbollah and Hamas and its alleged role in the Iraqi insurgency.