Barak: Opportunity exists for peace talks with Syria

Defense minister believes Egypt won’t become "Jeffersonian democracy," but sees no danger to peace treaty.

Barak 58 reuters (photo credit: Reuters)
Barak 58 reuters
(photo credit: Reuters)
In light of the upheaval in the Middle East, Israel must maintain its position as the strongest country in the region, Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Israel Radio in an interview on Monday.
Speaking about the chances of peace in the region, Barak said he believes there is an opportunity to hold talks with Syrian President Bashar Assad.
RELATED:Arab League boss Moussa to run for Egypt presidentEgyptian editor: Israel-peace treaty will likely be revised
He added that a stronger push should be made in talks with the Palestinians.
“The Syrians are signaling in more ways than one that they want to reach an agreement,” Barak said without elaborating.
“I think we need to examine every possibility. If the Syrian president is serious, he will find a partner in us.”
Discussing the future of Egypt, Barak said its army plays a central and important role in the country. However, he had cautious words about Egypt’s future.
“He who expects a Jeffersonian democracy, that’s not the situation,” he said in the interview, warning that it is not a pluralistic society “even though the general direction is toward progress.”
The true test for Egypt, Barak said, was whether change could occur without regression to dictatorship. He said he had spoken with the country’s current leader and defense minister, Field Marshal Muhammad Hussein Tantawi, whom he has known for 15 years, and claimed Tantawi harbored no ambitions to be Egypt’s next leader but was committed to leading the country for the time being.
Barak also said the peace treaty with Israel, like other international agreements Egypt is a party to, was safe.
“I hope and believe they [Egyptians] navigate correctly toward reform [and] a more open society, while maintaining the delicate balance and preventing the country from falling into the hands of Muslim movements,” Barak said.
“The strength of Egypt’s army and the country’s dependence on the world financially give Egypt a chance to act in a balanced way.”
Addressing a statement by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that Egypt could turn out to be like Iran, he said he saw no signs there of a “Khomeini.’ “I see no Khomeini-type movement in Egypt,” Barak added, referring to the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran.
The defense minister also praised the chances of peace talks taking place with the Syrians and said the peace process with the Palestinians should be strengthened.

Reuters contributed to this report.