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Israel Says It Will Not Hold Talks with Syria


Israel's prime minister, Ehud Olmert, says he has no intention of opening peace talks with Syria, and that it was wrong to link the Arab-Israeli conflict with efforts to stabilize Iraq - as called for by members of the Iraq Study Group in their report released on Wednesday. VOA's Jim Teeple has more from our Jerusalem bureau.

Speaking to Israeli newspaper editors on Thursday, Ehud Olmert said the Middle East has many problems that are not connected with Israel, and he did not believe there was a linkage between efforts to end the war in Iraq, and efforts to bring an end to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

The Iraq Study Group report released on Wednesday calls for direct talks between Israel, Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinians, and says efforts to resolve the Israeli-Arab conflict could help improve the situation in Iraq.

Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israel's foreign ministry, says Israel does not see the linkage.

"I think the Middle East has many problemsm,' he said. "In many parts of the region you see conflict, you see conflict, struggle and instability. But the idea that the reason there are problems in Iran, Iraq and Lebanon is because of Israel is an assumption that I believe is a bit far-fetched."

Mr. Olmert says, for now, Israel has no plans to reopen talks with Syria saying the conditions are not right given what he described as Syria's support for Hamas.

Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, recently called for a new round of talks with Israel.

Mr. Olmert also says during his recent talks with President Bush in Washington he received no indication that the U.S. would push Israel to re-start talks with the Syrians.

Israel's prime minister says he is deeply interested in re-starting talks with the Palestinians, and he said Israel was committed to the Gaza ceasefire agreed to on November 26.

Ehud Olmert also said Israel would not tolerate a nuclear Iran, but he said Israel would not take unilateral action in the matter, saying the Iranian nuclear issue should be settled by the international community.

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