Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Senior Israeli Official: Take Syria Seriously

By Gideon Alon, Haaretz Correspondent, and Haaretz Service

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 Baidetz 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."

Related articles:
  • MI and Mossad disagree over Assad's intentions (26/12/06)
  • Editorial: Respond to Assad, convince Bush (24/12/06)
  • Shmuel Rosner and Aluf Benn: Sidestepping Syria (24/12/06)
  • Editorial: Don't turn Syria away (19/12/06)
  • Akiva Eldar: Assad's fatal attraction (18/12/06)
  • 1 comment:

    Anonymous said...

    Interesting. Syria is willing for talks of course. Israel continues to prevaricate.