Assad Sarkozy Damascus 224.88.
(photo credit: AP)
A fifth round of indirect talks between Israel and Syria will take place in two weeks and will last two days, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced Thursday in Damascus. There was no word on where the talks were scheduled to take place.
The fifth round of talks, which were initially scheduled for early next week in Istanbul, were postponed due to the political situation in Israel and the resignation of Turbowitz, Syrian President Bashar Assad said earlier Thursday.
Assad was speaking at a summit with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani and Erdogan in Damascus.
According to Assad, the fifth round of talks was supposed to be significant as it was to pave the way for direct peace negotiations with Israel. He added that the previous four rounds were aimed at finding common ground for a draft of a 'declaration on principles' which would serve as the basis for such negotiations.
To date, these talks, the fourth round of which was in July, have been chaperoned by Turkey, whose officials speak separately with Israel and the Syrians. The two sides have not sat down face-to-face.
The Syrian president disclosed that his country has handed proposals for peace with Israel to Turkish mediators. Once Israel responds to these documents, negotiations can become direct, according to Assad, who further stated that this would happen only after a new president is in the White House.
Assad also said that he expected wide international support for these talks to ensure that the next Israeli Prime Minister would follow the path set down by Olmert, who, according to Assad, agreed to withdraw fully from the "occupied territories" in exchange for peace.
The Syrian president further stated that in his recent meeting with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, it was agreed that Lebanon would join the peace talks once direct negotiations between Israel and Syria commence.
Sarkozy reached out to Syria in his first visit to the Arab nation Wednesday, seeking to peel Damascus away from Teheran's influence and offering France's support for face-to-face peace talks between Syria and Israel.
After discussions with Assad, the French leader said Paris was ready to sponsor direct talks between the two "when the time comes" and would help in any way it could, if asked.
He also stressed that Syria could play a role in persuading its ally Iran to cooperate with the West rather than continue its nuclear standoff.
"It is very important that the time for Syria and Israel to talk directly comes soon, to build the peace that everyone needs," Sarkozy said at a joint news conference with Assad.
Israel is interested in continuing the indirect talks with Syria, and eventually would like to move on to direct talks in order to sign a peace agreement, a senior official told Israel Radio on Thursday.
The official added that the security establishment also supports the peace process and estimated that the legal issues regarding the continued employment of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's former aide, Yoram Turbowitz, a senior negotiator in the talks, to be resolved over the next few days. Although Turbowitz has agreed to hold the job without pay, Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz would like for him to receive a salary.
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