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(photo credit: AP [file[)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris last week that he wished to launch talks with Damascus without preconditions, according to Syrian President Bashar Assad's top aide Bouthaina Shaaban.
Shaaban, the Syrian president's primary media and political adviser, told Arab reporters on Friday that in his subsequent meeting with Assad, Sarkozy had quoted Netanyahu as saying that "the Syrian track is very important" and that he "wants to open talks without delay and without preconditions."
However, Shaaban said that the Syrian leader had responded by saying that before talks could start, he required guarantees that Israel would return "Syria's land" and restore the country's "rights" - an apparent allusion to the Golan Heights.
According to Shaaban, Sarkozy stated that such an agreement would be reached "as a result of negotiations," not as a precondition.
"No, that will result in negotiations, and the result of negotiations will be peace," Assad replied.
In response to Shaaban's remarks, government sources told Israel Radio that Netanyahu had consistently expressed his interest in re-launching negotiations with Syria without preconditions. However, they lamented that Assad was insisting on preconditions, a move they termed "unacceptable."
On Sunday, Netanyahu said that Israel would be willing to accept France as a mediator in peace negotiations with Syria.
On Tuesday, Sarkozy confirmed that his country was ready to facilitate a resumption of talks, warning that extremists could benefit from a continued deadlock in the Middle East peace process.