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Shamir, Taking Up the Peace Cudgel, Dares Syria’s Assad to Peace Talks

Just five days after Secretary of State James Baker strongly intimated that Israel’s new government had no interests in continuing the peace process, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir has challenged one of Israel’s most intractable foes to come to the negotiating table.

In an interview with an Egyptian newspaper, Shamir challenged Syrian President Hafez Assad to visit Israel for peace talks, “with no prior conditions.”

“Our policy is to conduct peace talks with all the neighboring countries, and with elected representatives of the residents in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip,” Shamir told Mayo, the organ of Egypt’s ruling National Democratic Party.

But he repeated Israel’s rejection of any negotiations with the Palestine Liberation Organization or any terrorist organization.

“If Syria’s president wants to come to Israel and talk to us with no prior conditions, we shall meet him and welcome him,” Shamir said.

Last week, Assad, addressing a session of the People’s Council, said the next war with Israel could spell disaster for both parties. But, he said, the Arabs would suffer less because of the Arab countries’ large, unpopulated territories, compared to Israel’s dense population centers.

Shamir’s remarks to the Egyptian paper were seen here as the new government’s first attempt to create a more positive image in the eyes of the Arab world.

Foreign Minister David Levy, who is hospitalized following a mild heart attack, met Sunday with Professor Shimon Shamir, Israel’s ambassador to Egypt, and told him he wanted to improve relations with Egypt.

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