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    Israeli FM rejects preconditions for peace talks with Syria

    Reuters
    26.04.2009 - 12:15 | Son Güncelleme:

    JERUSALEM - Israel's new government would talk peace with Syria if it dropped preconditions such as an Israeli commitment to return the Golan Heights, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Sunday.

    "I would be happy to hold negotiations with Syria this very evening, but without preconditions and without ultimatums," Lieberman told Israel Radio.

    Lieberman, an ultranationalist coalition partner to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said the less than month-old government was still formulating foreign policy but made clear he saw Syria's bedrock demand for the Golan as up for debate.
      
    This is not the view from Damascus, which says Israel, which annexed the Golan in a move not recognised abroad, is legally required to return it along with other occupied Arab territory.
      
    The United States, seen as keen for a breakthrough that could pick up slack on the Palestinian track and help isolate Iran, has spoken encouragingly about possible Israeli-Syrian rapprochement, perhaps as part of a wider land-for-peace deal.
      
    Netanyahu vowed on the election trail not to give up the Golan, but since taking office has not publicly discussed the Syrian option. The right-wing Israeli leader is due to meet U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington next month.
      
    Defence Minister Ehud Barak, who along with Netanyahu and Lieberman forms Israel's decision-making triumvirate, was more upbeat on Sunday about the prospect of an accord with Syria.
      
    As prime minister in 2000, the left-leaning Barak came close to a deal but it collapsed in disputes on demarcating the Golan.
      
    "It is in the state of Israel's interest to reach an arrangement on its ties with Syria, while defending our crucial security and other interests," Barak, leader of the Labour Party, told reporters.
      
    "Negotiations would be required for this, and the possibility of such negotiations must always be on the Israeli government's agenda."
      
      
    INDIRECT TALKS
    Netanyahu's centrist predecessor, Ehud Olmert, held indirect talks with Syria through Turkish mediators. Syria froze those contacts in protest at Israel's January war in Gaza but has since signalled willingness to resume.
      
    Olmert had his own precondition for fuller engagement with Syria -- that it distance itself from Iran, and Lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian Hamas guerrillas. Iran rejected that.
      
    "Each of the sides has a position," Lieberman said.
      
    "Syria may want sovereignty on the Golan Heights, while we ask for a 200-year lease on the Golan Heights. They can demand the Golan Heights in exchange for peace, while we will demand peace for peace."
      
    Lieberman condemned as an "ultimatum" the occasional Syrian hints that force could be a last resort for retaking the strategic plateau which Israel captured in a 1967 war.

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