Barak: PM did not agree to withdraw from the Golan

Defense minister denies 'Yediot' report PM said he'd return Golan to Syria, adds that talks "didn't reach this stage."

DEFENSE MINISTER Ehud Barak 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
At no stage did Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu say he was prepared to withdraw from the Golan Heights, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Saturday in an interview with Channel Two's "Meet The Press" program.
Barak's comments came in response to a Yediot Ahronot report a day earlier, that stated that the prime minister had agreed in principle to withdraw from the Golan as part of a peace agreement with Syria in negotiations that took place in the fall of 2010.
"Neither Netanyahu nor I said we were prepared to do this," Barak asserted, explaining that no concrete negotiations had been held. Barak said that the United States had explored the possibility of whether Syria would cut ties with Hezbollah and Iran: "If this would have been possible it would have been worth considering many options." However, he emphasized, "we didn't get to this stage at all," and added, "we don't give presents for free."
Retorting to accusations made earlier by Vice Premier Moshe Ya'alon that Barak put political interests ahead of national considerations, the defense minister attributed Ya'alon's "pathetic" comments to political "pandering" ahead of the Likud party's primaries.
Barak asserted that he strives for decisive action against the Iranian nuclear threat in cooperation with the US, and will continue to do so. He stressed that there was no difference between his and Netanyahu's positions, except that he places a lot of importance on conducting discussions on the issue "behind closed doors." He added that following Netanyahu's speech at the United Nations General Assembly, the prime minister had "returned" to holding discussions in closed forums.
Turning to elections, Barak confidently predicted that his party, Independence, would pass the electoral threshold. "I'm not running for prime minister, but I hope that we will have a significant presence in the next Knesset," he said. He questioned the wisdom of former prime minister Ehud Olmert running for Knesset, opining that "the norm of the rule of law is under threat," in reference to corruption charges against Olmert. "I don't want to say that he shouldn't run, but my stance is clear."