'Come to Jerusalem to talk' was the message of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to Syrian President Bashar Assad, in an historic interview to Saudi satellite station Al Arabiya, aired by Channel 10 Monday evening. In his first appearance on a major Arabic news station in over six years, Olmert, speaking in an office adorned with the blue and white Israeli flag, told his Hebrew-speaking interviewer: "Bashar Assad, you know â€¦ You know I am ready to hold direct negotiations with you and you also know that it's you who insists on speaking to the Americans. The American president says: 'I don't want to stand between Bashar Assad and Ehud Olmert. If you want to talk, sit down and talk." Assad has "heard many things from me already," Olmert added.
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When asked where he would hold such talks with Assad, Olmert said "any place he [Assad] would agree to meet," hinting that Assad would even be welcome in Jerusalem.
Channel 10 analyst Zvi Yehezkeli remarked that Al Arabiya's broadcasts are transmitted following approval from the Saudi government. He added the network was planning to follow up on Olmert's interview with interviews with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas Damascus-based leader Khaled Mashaal and eventually, Assad himself.
Several weeks ago, during Olmert's visit to the US, American President George W. Bush, in Olmert's presence, was asked if he would mediate between Israel and Syria in an attempt to warm the truce the two countries observe since 1973 into a full-blooded peace treaty. Bush's response was that Olmert "is plenty capable" of achieving such a goal without US help. The Syria Accountability Act, isolating Syria as a state sponsor of terrorism, was passed during Bush's tenure. Despite visits to Damascus by house speaker Nancy Pelosi and other congressmen earlier this year, Bush keeps contacts with Syria cool. However, the US still keeps an embassy in Damascus.