Peres: Assad, PM should start talking

After meeting Abdullah in Jordan, president asks "if President Assad really wants peace, why is he shy?"

peres wef jordan 248 88 ap (photo credit: AP)
peres wef jordan 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
If Syrian President Bashar Assad is genuinely interested in peace, he should follow the examples set by Egypt's Anwar Sadat and Jordan's King Hussein and come to Israel to open direct talks, President Shimon Peres suggested on Sunday. Peres was in Jordan to meet with King Abdullah II and to participate in the World Economic Forum. "If President Assad wants peace, why is he shy?" Peres asked at a press conference, after speaking at the forum to more than a thousand delegates, including business people from several Arab states, who had come to a Jordanian resort on the Dead Sea. Peres described his half-hour meeting with Abdullah as "extremely positive." A statement issued by the palace read that the king had urged Peres to do everything possible to persuade the government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to enter into negotiations with the Palestinians based on a two-state solution as quickly as possible, with the aim of resolving the conflict. Prior to his meeting with Abdullah, Peres said that Israel was ready to resume negotiations and reminded reporters that Netanyahu had publicly stated that he would honor the commitments made by previous governments. The Netanyahu administration has accepted the road map, said Peres. Peres repeated this to the king, saying that Israel wanted peace and the Israeli government was committed to peace. Peres also noted that this was a crucial year for the Middle East and it was essential not to waste time. He added that he supported the Arab initiative, which would enable Israel to conclude peace treaties with most of the Arab states parallel to reaching an agreement with the Palestinians. Peres stressed that the central issue for Israel was security, and that there would be no compromise where security was concerned. He reminded the king that Israel had evacuated all the Jews from Gaza in what was, and still is, a very painful process, and in return it was targeted by more than 4,000 rockets in recent years. Peres said Israel could no longer tolerate the firing of rockets and the constant threat to the security of her citizens. Peres told Abdullah that the revival of the peace process required a momentous gesture such as that made in 1997 by the monarch's father, King Hussein, when he came to comfort the bereaved families whose daughters had been murdered in Naharayim by a crazed Jordanian soldier. Peres said there were no words to explain what an enormous impression Hussein's gesture had made on the people of Israel. "We can never forget it," he said, adding that the visit by Sadat to Jerusalem, a visit that changed history, was also engraved in Israel's collective memory. Stressing the importance of the strategic relations between Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom, Peres said, "We must create hope. We must create a new gesture for the Middle East." Abdullah, who addressed Peres as "my old friend," was insistent about advancing peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, based on the two states for two peoples solution, as well as the Arab initiative. "We must move forward in the peace process, because it is of interest to all of us," he said, and almost as if to echo the sentiments expressed on many occasions by Peres, added that peace would open the doors to broad-based cooperation in the economic realm. Towards the end of the meeting, the king asked that he be left alone with Peres and the two held a private discussion on how to restart the peace process. Details of the closed-door meeting were not released.