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Last Thursday, President of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) Mahmoud Abbas
Last Thursday, President of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) Mahmoud Abbas held talks with U.S. President George W. Bush in Washington.

These talks looked rather pale against the background of other news in the Middle East, and would not deserve any mention if some detail were not connected with a new intrigue brewed in the U.S. corridors of power.

When Bush and Abbas were meeting, the press published the news about Hamas's readiness to accept the Egyptian-proposed plan of reconciliation with Israel. It should be said that Israel hastened to renounce the plan, accusing the Islamists of dragging out the time. Nevertheless, it is important that Hamas is trying to find a way out of the impasse, into which it drove itself a year ago by seizing power in the Gaza Strip, and severing all relations with Abbas.

However, the United States, Israel, and the PNA are interested in Hamas's unconditional surrender, rather then softening its position, and it is difficult to imagine how this may happen. It is also hard to imagine how Bush's dream about Israelis and Palestinians reaching peace before the end of his term will come true, if the Hamas situation is not resolved.

But now he has received a chance to win the laurels of a Mid-Eastern peacemaker in a different direction, although it is very dubious that he will use it.

Damascus has come up with sensational news about Israel's readiness for peace with Syrians on the basis of international agreements, providing, in particular, for the return of the Golan Heights. Syrian leaders maintain that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert conveyed these words to Syrian President Bashar Asad via Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Israeli prime minister's office neither confirms, nor denies these reports, saying that Olmert said everything he wanted in his recent interview.

He gave this interview to the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth in middle April. He said that Syrians know perfectly well what he wants from them, and that he knows perfectly well what they want of him, adding that there exists an opportunity for the start of a process, which will lead to peace between Syria and Israel.

Olmert did not confirm the fact of indirect talks with Damascus, but this was not necessary. The world community has long known that these talks have been going on for almost two years now, no matter how much Israelis would like to keep them secret, as distinct from Syria, which has repeatedly admitted this fact.

Damascus is provoking Israel to be open in a bid to step up the negotiating process. Heated debates on the Golan Heights are inevitable in Israeli society, and for this reason Syrians want to learn about the alignment of forces as soon as possible, and understand whether a peace treaty is possible in the near future, and on what terms. This is better than striking an agreement with Olmert, and finding out that it is invalid.

But Washington's reaction is even more important for Damascus. Under President Bush, Syria has become one of the favorite targets of U.S. criticism. The United States is accusing Syria of a political crisis in Lebanon, raids of militants on Iraqi territory, support for Palestinian extremists, and particularly, of its alliance with Iran.

But while Abbas was meeting with Bush in Washington, Syria was accused of secretly building a nuclear reactor for military purposes. On Thursday, representatives of U.S. secret services demonstrated in Congress documents, videos and photos depicting the Israeli-destroyed nuclear reactor in Syria in September 2007. Allegedly, it was built with North Korea's technical assistance.

Washington does not conceal that the hearings in Congress are largely aimed at exerting pressure on North Korea. It was accused of spreading nuclear technologies all of a sudden, when the Korean "nuclear crisis" at the six-lateral talks in Beijing seemed to have been almost resolved. But the right-wing Republicans did not like the idea of compromise, and now Pyongyang is told to admit the transfer of technology to Syria. It is obvious that Washington will enhance its pressure on Damascus after the hearings.

In response, Syria hastened to reveal the gist of its talks with Israel, turning the prospect of a peace settlement into a shield against new U.S. attacks. Washington is facing a choice - is it better to continue regarding Syria its enemy, or should it achieve progress at least on one track of Mid-Eastern peace process? The latter option will allow it to take Syria out of the orbit of Iran's influence, and deal a blow at the positions of extremists.

It is important to note that it was in Tehran that Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem confirmed Damascus's readiness to conclude peace with Israel, if the sides returned to the border, which existed before June 4, 1967. He said that the negotiating process should not do damage to the peace process in Palestine, or reinforce the blockade of the Gaza Strip. The Syrian problem is not likely to be withdrawn from the Mid-Eastern dilemma unless Washington is ready to revise its policy in the region. But this chance is slim under the current administration.

All Abbas could do was to helplessly watch the developments. Washington made it clear that it is somewhat premature to discuss a new Middle East conference in Moscow or anywhere else. Russia has suggested a conference on all aspects of the Arab-Israeli conflict, including Syria's role. It makes sense to consider the Russian idea, and the prospects of a breakthrough in the Mid-Eastern peace process before the expiry of President Bush's term.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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