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Arens Reiterates Shamir’s Offer Proposing Peace Talks with Syria

Defense Minister Moshe Arens has renewed Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s overture to Damascus telling Israel Radio on Thursday that Israel is ready to enter into immediate negotiations with Syria.

Despite the differences between the two countries, everything begins with dialogue, Arens said. “As far as we are concerned, we are ready to talk.”

Last month, in an interview published in the Egyptian newspaper Mayo, the organ of Egypt’s ruling National Democratic Party, Shamir challenged Syrian President Hafez Assad to visit Israel for peace talks “with no preconditions.”

The interview appeared five days after U.S. Secretary of State James Baker expressed frustration with Israel’s rejection of his formula for a peace dialogue with the Palestinians, and suggested that the Israelis were in fact not interested in peace.

The Likud government maintains that the Middle East conflict can be resolved only by peace between Israel and the Arab states, and that the Palestinian dispute will then be resolved.

The United States and most of its Western allies take the opposite view.

Shamir’s offer was in any event, flatly rejected by Assad.

But Arens said that based on the improved relations between Syria and Egypt, he still hopes Syria will choose “the path of pragmatism,” and that President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt “will bring Assad to the course of peace, rather than the other way around.”

Other prominent members of Likud are apprehensive about the new Egyptian-Syrian rapprochement.

Eliahu Ben-Elissar, chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and Israel’s first ambassador to Cairo, has warned against its possible negative effects.

Arens observed that so far nothing has surfaced “which could serve as a basis for the desired contact with the Syrians.”

On the contrary, he pointed out that the Syrians still talk of creating a strategic balance with Israel.

“They have a big army and all that is needed is one man’s decision,” Arens pointed out, referring to Assad’s dictatorial powers.

For that reason, he said, Israel maintains a “permanent state of alertness.”

Another ominous possibility is a detonate between Syria and Iraq, which could occur despite the continued animosity between Assad and the Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein.

Past experience has shown that when these two Arab states form a coalition against Israel, suddenly their differences disappear, Arens said.

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