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By Tamora Vidaillet
PARIS (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on Friday that an Israeli call to renew peace talks was mere "word play" and the United States should be doing more to resolve conflict in the Middle East.
Assad was in Paris for talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and said ties with France had greatly improved in recent months after a long period of frosty relations.
Sarkozy met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this week, raising speculation that France was trying to nudge along the stalled peace process.
Netanyahu told Sarkozy he was ready to start peace negotiations with Assad unconditionally, but the Syrian leader said the offer could not be taken at face value.
"Syria does not have any conditions. Syria has rights and Syria will never give up these rights," he told reporters at the Elysee Palace following his meeting.
"All this word play from the Israelis is meant to do away demands and rights," he added. "This can only accentuate instability in the region."
Syria has demanded Israel withdraw fully from the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau that it captured from Syria in a 1967 war and later annexed.
Peace talks between the two countries foundered in 2000 over the issue and recent Turkish mediation ended late last year when Israel launched a military offensive in the Gaza Strip.
Assad said if Israel really wanted peace with Syria it should get back in touch with Turkey. "If Mr. Netanyahu is serious, he can send his team of experts. We will send our team of experts to Turkey," he said.
U.S. "WEAK POINT"
Blocked Syrian-Israeli relations are one of the major hurdles to a broad Middle East peace accord. In an interview with Le Figaro newspaper, Assad said U.S. President Barack Obama had to get more involved if he wanted results.
"But the weak point is the American sponsor (of peace talks)," Assad was quoted as saying.
"What Obama said about peace was a good thing. We agree with him on the principles, but as I said, what's the action plan? The sponsor has to draw up an action plan," he said.
Assad said that while relations with the United States had improved, issues such as continued U.S. sanctions against Syria were hindering any joint work towards peace in the Middle East.
Asked about Israel's complaint to the United Nations earlier this month about what it said was an Iranian attempt to supply weapons by ship to Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, Assad accused Israel of lying.
"What proof is there that the arms were for Hezbollah or someone else?" he said, adding that a sovereign state had the right to buy arms. He said Israel's seizure of the ship amounted to "an act of piracy in the middle of the Mediterranean."
(Writing by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Dominic Evans)

Reuters