"We want to make peace… we are willing to make peace with Syria unconditionally and without demands. I have a lot of respect for the Syrian leader and the Syrian policy," Olmert said in a meeting with Russian reporters at his Jerusalem residence.
The Syrians "have internal problems," the PM said, "but we have no reason to rule out dialogue with Syria."
This was the prime minister's first statement on the Syrian matter since the incident in which Syria accused Israeli aircraft of invading its airspace almost two weeks ago.
Since the report about Israeli planes flying in Syrian skies and possibly attacking targets in its territory, both Damascus and Jerusalem have kept complete silence on the matter.
Referring to the Iranian nuclear threat, Olmert said that Ahmadinejad was attempting to persuade the international community, through psychological warfare, that it was too late to stop Iran from obtaining weapons.
"This is how he is trying to convince the international community to engage in negotiations with him. There are exaggerations here. We are not scared, just concerned," he added.
The meeting was also attended by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Strategic Affairs Avigdor Lieberman, who spoke of the Palestinian issue. "Addressing the Qassam threat is this government's true test… our first mission is to stop this phenomenon. Statements saying that there is a political solution for this are hollow – this is clear both to me and to the prime minister," he said.
MK slam Olmert's statements
MK Arieh Eldad (National Union-National Religious Party) said Olmert was behaving as if he were "bankrupt" following his announcement Monday that he would be willing to hold peace talks with Syria without any preconditions.
"It is very strange that Israel's prime minister holds respect for Syria's leader, who is called the 'fool' behind his back by most Arab leaders. Olmert is behaving as if he has gone bankrupt and for the sake of his political survival is willing to sell assets that don't even belong to him. After his talks with Abu Mazen (Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas) hit the rocks, he is trying to sell the Golan Heights again," Eldad said.
MK Ahmad Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al) criticized Olmert's statement, saying, "Someone who says they want to negotiate does not send airplanes to harm Syria's sovereignty, to enter and bomb its land.
"It seems that these statements are lip service at a time when serious processes are occurring simultaneously beyond the surface and are arousing concern that someone may be planning to take the region on another dangerous war adventure in coordination with President Bush," Tibi said.