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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

FM: Before agreeing to talks, we must ask if Syria wants peace

Last update - 19:21 26/12/2006   
FM: Before agreeing to talks, we must ask if Syria wants peace
By Gideon Alon, Haaretz Correspondent, and Haaretz Service

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Tuesday that before any change in policy regarding negotiations with Syria could be considered, Israel would have to ask itself whether the talks culd lead to any sort of peace agreement.
"We must ask ourselves if the significance of Syria's signals is that [Syrian] President Bashar Assad wants just negotiations with Israel or if he also wants to reach peace at the end of the process," Livni told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. "We must know what we are going to get at the end of the process."
Livni did not clarify her own stance on the matter during her address to the committee, but said Syria was interested in holding talks in order to improve its own situation in the international arena and reduce the global pressures it has faced in recent years.
A senior Foreign Ministry official on Tuesday backed the view of Military Intelligence that Syria is serious about renewing peace negotiations with Israel.
"Syria is ready for negotiations and there are sources in the Arab states who believe that Syria will ally itself to the Western bloc headed by the United States and Britain," said Nimrod Barkan, the director of the Foreign Ministry Center for Policy Research.
A senior security source told Haaretz that, "There is no doubt that there is a movement within Syria that is interested in talks with us. The only way to gauge their level of seriousness is to talk to them.
"But Olmert is inflexible on the issue at the moment - he is more driven by political considerations regarding American reservations [on the issue of talks] than by renewing contacts with Damascus."
Barkan was speaking to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee a day after the head of the Military Intelligence research division told the same panel that he believes recent peace overtures emanating from Syrian President Bashar Assad are sincere.
"Syria is genuinely interested in negotiations," Brigadier General Yossi Baidatz told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
"The Syrian regime believes that dialog with Israel will only better its position and improve its standing," Baidatz said.
Last week, however, Mossad director Meir Dagan expressed the opposite opinion, saying that Syria is not prepared to return to the negotiating table with Israel despite declarations by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem.
"I don't truly see Syria offering to renew negotiations with Israel," Dagan said.
"They have their public comments, but have made no attempt to ask the United Sates and Europe to try to advance the political process."
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Monday that he would like to renew peace talks with Syria, but insisted that Damascus first end its support for Hamas, Hezbollah and other militant groups.
"I hope that we will be able to arrive at some point at a dialogue with Syria if Syria upholds the most basic commitment: the cessation of violence, the same commitment we demand of anyone we talk to," Olmert said at a meeting of lawmakers from his Kadima party.
The prime minister told the cabinet last week that now is not the time to embark on negotiations with Damascus, given that U.S. President George W. Bush is demanding Assad "stop instigating war."

U.S. Senator Specter: Syria wants to resume talks with Israel Syria's president wants to resume peace negotiations with Israel, U.S. Senator Arlen Specter said Tuesday after meeting Bashar Assad.
"Assad stated an interest in negotiating with Israel to try to bring a peaceful settlement to the Syrian-Israeli dispute under the UN doctrine of land-for-peace," the Republican senator said at a press conference at Damascus airport before leaving the country after talks with the president and Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem.
Specter did not say what conditions Assad gave for restarting talks with the Israelis. Syrian officials were not available for comment.
Syria has said it would resume negotiations but only within the framework of a comprehensive peace process. Damascus wants the return of the entire Golan Heights, captured by Israel in the 1967 Six Day war.
Specter said he discussed with Assad how Syria could use its influence with Hamas to urge the Palestinian militant group to give up its refusal to recognize Israel.
Syria's official news agency, SANA, reported that the Assad-Specter talks focused on the current situation in Iraq, the Palestinian territories, Lebanon and the issue of terrorism and ways of combating it.
Assad told Specter that all the region's problems should be solved, stressing that the solution to these problems is a political, rather than a security one, SANA said.
It added that Specter stressed the importance of reactivating the dialogue between the United States and Syria to achieve security and stability in the Middle East.
A bipartisan panel on Iraq recommended earlier this month that the U.S. engage Syria, Iraq's neighbor, toward returning stability to Iraq.

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