WASHINGTON -- Syria responded favorably yesterday to President Bush's terms for convening a peace conference, reviving the stalled Middle East peace process and putting new pressure on Israel to compromise.
In a letter to President Bush, Syrian President Hafez el Assad gave what Secretary of State James A. Baker III called a "positive" response to the outline Mr. Bush sent to him weeks ago.
But Mr. Baker didn't rule out the possibility that troublesome conditions might be buried in the "quite long" letter.
"I didn't see, when I was reading it, anything expressed specifically as conditions. However, I do think that there are in there some suggestions that we will want to probe and determine whether or not they are in any way conditional," Mr. Baker said at the State Department before leaving to join President Bush in London for the Group of Seven summit.
"I will say this: I think that the response that we have received in this letter to the president moves the Syrian government further than they have been willing to move in any peace process effort that I'm aware of before, or any conference."
The Israeli Foreign Ministry had no immediate comment on the Syrian announcement, the Associated Press reported.
Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy's spokeswoman, Aliza Goren, said the Israelis were still trying to obtain a text of Syria's response.
Syria, which wants to enlist the strongest possible international pressure on Israel to yield territory, had insisted on a major United Nations role in a peace conference aimed at leading to bilateral talks between Israel and Arab states and between Israel and the Palestinians.
Damascus also had wanted to maintain international pressure on the negotiators by continuing the conference even after the beginning of bilateral talks.
Israel rejected both conditions.
Trying to bridge the gap, Mr. Bush proposed having a silent observer from the United Nations attend the peace conference jointly sponsored by the United States and the Soviet Union.
He also proposed that the conference be allowed to reconvene with the consent of all parties involved, which would give Israel a veto.
Israel still dismissed the terms, although U.S. officials have avoided characterizing the Israeli stance as a flat rejection.
The intended key selling point for Syria was Mr. Bush's proposal that the talks be held on the basis of U.N. Security Council FTC Resolutions 242 and 338, which call for Israel to trade land for peace.
Mr. Assad's response followed messages between Damascus and Washington seeking and getting clarification of Mr. Bush's proposed terms, along with visits by Egyptian leaders to Syria.
The state-controlled Syrian Arab Television Network said Mr. Assad regarded Mr. Bush's proposals as "positive and balanced" and that they "constitute an acceptable basis for achieving a comprehensive solution and a peace process in the region, especially since these proposals are based on U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, which apply to all fronts and secure legitimate Palestinian political rights."
"The president also expresses satisfaction because President Bush based his proposals on the principles of international legitimacy, gave special attention to the U.N. role in the peace conference and stressed European participation," the network said.
Mr. Assad particularly praised the U.S.-Soviet pledge to try to make the conference succeed "in its objectives as defined by the relevant U.N. resolutions," it said.