Syria sets basis for Israel talks

A048104112.jpgSyria has sent a list of proposals to Israel aimed at laying the groundwork for direct peace talks between the two foes, President Bashar al-Assad says.

“We are awaiting Israel’s response to six points submitted through Turkey,” Mr Assad said, promising Syria would respond positively to Israel’s answer.

Direct talks could happen once a new US administration “which believes in the peace process” takes office, he said.

Syria has remained in a state of war with Israel since its 1948 foundation.

Mr Assad was speaking at a four-way summit with the leaders of France and key Middle East mediators Qatar and Turkey.

President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose country holds the revolving EU presidency, said he hoped France and the EU could rank alongside the US as a Middle East peacemaker.

Mr Assad cautioned that the success of future of negotiations depended on who became the next prime minister in Israel as well as who succeeded US President George W Bush.

‘Happy with results’

Mr Assad said Syria had outlined six points about the “withdrawal line”, a reference to the extent of Israel’s possible withdrawal from the Golan Heights which it occupied in 1967.

It is very important that the time for Syria and Israel to talk directly comes soon
French President Nicolas Sarkozy

“We want the support of all states… to be assured the next [Israeli] prime minister will follow the same direction as [the incumbent Ehud] Olmert through his readiness for complete withdrawal from the occupied territories for peace to be achieved,” he said.

Aides of the outgoing Mr Olmert – who is resigning over a number of corruption scandals which he denies involvement in – declined to comment on Mr Assad’s disclosure.

“We are very happy with the results we have achieved,” said Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose government has mediated four rounds of indirect Israeli-Syrian talks since May.

Turkey has close ties with Israel and the Arab world and is uniquely positioned to mediate, correspondents say.

“It is very important that the time for Syria and Israel to talk directly comes soon, to build the peace everyone needs,” Mr Sarkozy said on the first day of his two-day visit to Damascus.

The US and other Western powers have shunned Syria, citing its support of Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Mr Assad said Syria had been expecting “a fifth crucial round of talks… to determine the evolution of these negotiations” to begin on Sunday, but the process had been put on hold because of political changes in Israel.

Mr Erdogan was quoted by Anatolian state news agency as saying they had been rescheduled to 18-19 September.

Rehabilitating Syria

The BBC’s Bethany Bell in Damascus says the summit brings together several key regional players, but progress is likely to be tentative at best.

President Sarkozy is the first Western leader to visit the Syrian capital since Syria’s critics blamed it for the murder of former Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri in February 2005.

The Hariri bombing – which Syria firmly denied involvement in – caused relations between Paris and Damascus to plummet.

But Mr Sarkozy hosted Mr Assad in July and correspondents say he appears determined to bring Syria, a long-time foe of the US and Israel, back into the international fold.

Former colonial power France’s mediation has already brought an easing of tensions between Syria and Lebanon.

Sitting at the fourth corner of the summit table was the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, and his Prime Minister, Hamad bin Jasim al-Thani, who helped broker an internal peace deal in Lebanon.

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