Syria sees Annapolis as a start

Syria endorsed the Annapolis peace talks as a launching pad for comprehensive Israeli-Arab peace.

In a statement released through the Syrian Embassy in Washington after the conclusion Tuesday of the U.S.-convened Israeli-Palestinian peace conference, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal Mekdad expressed “hope that this meeting will serve as a point of starting off the process of just and comprehensive peace on all tracks.”

The hopeful note was significant because Syria was the only nation attending the talks not participating at the full foreign minister level and had avoided contact with Israel during the process.

The statement outlined a history of peace talks that portrayed Syria as a serious partner and Israel as using negotiations to gain political advantage.

“Syria engaged in incessant negotiations with five Israeli governments, but most of them did not deal with peace as a firm stance but as a circumstantial stance which can be invested for temporary political ends,” it said.

Nine years of talks between Israel and Syria broke up in 2000. Israel blamed Syria for insisting on the return of the Golan Heights, captured by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War, in exchange for little more than an armistice. Syria charged that Israel was using the prospect of peace with Syria to leverage concessions from the Palestinians, who feared being left alone in negotiations with Israel. Each side blamed the other for the decision to suspend talks.

Mekdad also said that “normalization with Israel comes after the Israeli withdrawal from the occupied Arab territories since 1967, and not before it.” That echoed more recent Syrian overtures that have promised a full peace in exchange for the Golan.

President Bush has conditioned further Syrian participation in the peace talks on Syria ending its interference in neighboring Lebanon.

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