Assad to sit with Olmert at Paris conference

Next round of indirect Israel-Syria talks set for next month; Turkish FM: Latest negotiations successful.

assad wife plane 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
assad wife plane 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Syrian President Bashar Assad has accepted an invitation to a regional conference in France on July 13, and will be seated at a table with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner confirmed Tuesday. "The Syrian president will be there sitting next to and at the same table as the Israeli president," Kouchner told the French parliament. Israeli officials clarified later that Kouchner was referring to Olmert, who has already accepted an invitation to attend the conference, and not to President Shimon Peres. Olmert's top advisors, Chief of Staff Yoram Turbowicz and foreign policy adviser Shalom Turgeman, were in Paris Tuesday, fueling speculation they were trying to put together an Olmert-Assad meeting. A senior official said Israel "was always happy to meet with Arab leaders, but the idea that there is going to be a summit has in no way been determined or finalized. It is a lot of speculation at this point, and not more than that." Olmert and Abbas will be among some 40 government heads expected to attend the summit to launch a new union of EU and Mediterranean states to increase cooperation in fields like immigration, security and environmental issues. Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said in Luxembourg on Tuesday that the latest round of indirect talks between Israel and Syria that took place in Ankara on Sunday and Monday were complicated, but he expressed hope they could lead to a breakthrough. "The negotiations went very successfully and more importantly the calendar was set for the next two meetings, which will be held in July," Babacan told reporters. He said both sides "were very satisfied" with the negotiations to date. Babacan said forging a lasting peace between the two sides was "a very complicated matter," adding the issues involved were "very sensitive." He did not go into detail on what progress was made, but said Turkey would continue to act as intermediary. "As long as we see hope for peace, we are determined to continue this process. Of course the will of both parties is also very important," Babacan said. AP contributed to this report.