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Thursday, January 11, 2007

'Syrian overtures express needs of entire region'

'Syrian overtures express needs of entire region'

A Syrian representative at the Mideast peace conference that kicked off in Madrid on Thursday afternoon said that his country's calls to renew negotiations with Israel expressed the needs and will of the entire region.

Doctor Ya'ad Daudi said that the return of the Golan Heights was a vital step in establishing regional peace and that Israel must return to the 1967 borders.

Daudi added that Damascus was urging third party officials to stop getting involved in negotiations.

Osama el-Baza, the political advisor to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, said that Israel needed to be pressured into renewing talks with Syria because Damascus "holds the key to the region."

MK Ofer Paz-Pines said that the conference opened a direct channel of discussion between Israeli, Syrian and Lebanese representatives.

The conference that aims to revive optimism into stalled Mideast peace talks opened with messages of support from former US President Bill Clinton and other leaders involved in past efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The two-day meeting was called to commemorate 1991 talks in the Spanish capital that brought Israel and many of its Arab enemies together for the first time.

While some say those talks accomplished little, supporters say they laid the groundwork the Oslo peace process, which in turn resulted in the establishment of the Palestinian Authority.

Messages from Clinton, former Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev and ex-US Secretary of State James Baker III, were read out at the start of the session.

"The convening of this conference 15 years later could not be more timely," wrote Baker, one of those who arranged the 1991 talks. "It offers an opportunity to assist the possibility of moving forward toward Arab-Israeli conflict resolution."

Clinton's message stressed the importance of the 1991 talks, and said the new meeting showed that there was still hope for the future.

"It was the first time that Israelis and Arabs met at the conference table rather than on the battlefield," Clinton wrote. "By being here together, despite your differences, you send a strong message that peace still can and must be achieved."

But there is a big difference between the 1991 event and the meeting being held in Madrid now, entitled "Madrid plus 15." These talks are being sponsored by private peace foundations, rather than by the Spanish government, and none of the major players in the region have sent senior representatives.

Attending the opening session were the foreign ministers from Denmark, Norway and Sweden and an array of former political leaders, experts and academics from the United Nations, the United States, Russia and the Middle East.

The Spanish government, while not organizing the event, sees it as part of its efforts to restart what it sees as a seriously ailing peace process.
Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, a former EU envoy to the Middle East, and Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero have been vocal in recent months in their calls to advance peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

But the country's overtures so far have had little impact, with both the Israelis and Palestinians lukewarm on the proposals.

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