New Syrian Flexibility Reported, but Talks with Israel Are Denied

Israel has dismissed media reports it is engaged in secret talks with Syria.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir called the reports “pure speculation, the product of a fertile imagination.”

Foreign Ministry sources also said they had no knowledge of Israeli contacts with Syria, which were reported Thursday by The Independent, a British daily.

According to the paper, representatives of the two countries have so far had two rounds of talks in Austria. While the talks fell short of formal negotiations, they were conducted with the full approval of Syrian and Israeli leaders, the report said.

Meanwhile, a senior U.N. official arrived in Jerusalem from Damascus on Wednesday and reported that Syria is now “more flexible” than in the past.

The assessment was given to Foreign Ministry officials by Jean Claude Aimee, Middle East affairs assistant to U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar.

Aimee said top Syrian officials told him that Syria would not obstruct an Israeli-Palestinian dialogue, though they give it little chance to succeed.

He said that President Hafez Assad of Syria still favors an international conference to settle the Middle East conflict, but believes it should be sponsored by the United States and Soviet Union alone, instead of by the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.

Israel opposes an international conference under any auspices.

Aimee’s impressions of Syria were similar to those of other recent visitors to Damascus, including U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.).

Specter reported that Syria has moderated its views on the peace process and is now willing to reduce its stockpile of chemical weapons.

Aimee also discussed his meeting with King Hussein of Jordan, whom he described as concerned by the spread of Islamic fundamentalism in his country, but confident he can contain it.

Aimee said the Jordanian monarch is also worried by the growing emigration of Palestinians from the West Bank, which is increasing the already considerable Palestinian population in his kingdom.

NEXT STORY