Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Thursday that he disagreed with a U.S. advisory group’s linkage of efforts to stabilize Iraq with new moves to end Israel’s conflict with its neighbors.
The Iraq Study Group’s report, released Wednesday, calls for direct talks between Israel and its neighbors, Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinians, and says that a concerted effort to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict would improve the situation in Iraq.
“The attempt to create linkage between the Iraqi issue and the Mideast issue — we have a different view,” Olmert said in his first response to the report.
Olmert said in a news conference that conditions were not ripe to reopen long-dormant talks with Syria, whose president, Bashar Assad, has called in recent months for a new round of talks with Israel. Olmert has rejected them out of hand.
Skeptical of talks with Syria
Olmert said that he does not think talks will force Syria to break its close ties with Iran, Hezbollah militants in Lebanon and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
“I don’t think there is a Syrian desire for war with us. We certainly don’t have a desire to fight with them. That doesn’t mean conditions are ripe for us to negotiate with them,” he said.
Olmert, however, said that Israel was deeply interested in restarting new talks with the Palestinians and would work, “with all our might” to make them happen.
He rejected suggestions that Israel’s recent cease-fire with Palestinian militants in Gaza would simply allow the militants to rearm and regroup for another round of fighting, saying that Israel would not allow that to happen.
He said that despite occasional rocket attacks by Gaza militants at Israel, “we will continue to show restraint.”
Olmert also welcomed a peace initiative put forward by Saudi Arabia, saying it contains “interesting elements that should not be ignored.”
However, he did not fully endorse the plan, which called for Israel to withdraw from all of the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, a stipulation Israel rejects.
Olmert also addressed the controversy over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, reiterating Israel’s position that it will not tolerate a nuclear Iran, but will not take unilateral action, preferring that the dispute be settled by the international community as a whole.
He reiterated his support for the U.S. war in Iraq.
“We always felt, like other nations in our region, that the removal of Saddam Hussein was a major, major contribution to stability of our part of the world,” Olmert said.