Gov't downplays Syria appointment

Decision to name official to write draft dealing with Syria talks "routine."

The Foreign Ministry played down as "routine" Sunday the recent appointment of Yaakov Dayan to draw up a document dealing with the Israeli-Syrian relationship. Dayan, who served as Silvan Shalom's chief-of-staff when Shalom was foreign minister, said his brief was to prepare a document for the country's decision makers dealing with all aspects of the Israeli-Syrian relationship, including looking at the possibility of future negotiations. He said that the preparation of the document was not intended to send any type of message or signal to Syria. Dayan reportedly met recently with Tel Aviv University President Itamar Rabinovich, who headed the team handling negotiations with Syria during Yitzhak Rabin's tenure as prime minister and is also expected to meet with Uri Saguy, who held the same position under Ehud Barak. Ido Aharoni, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's media adviser who prepared a similar document on Syria in 2000, said that no special significance should be read into the project or the timing of the appointment. Dayan was appointed a few weeks ago, after the war in Lebanon had already begun. "This has nothing to do with the possibility of resuming the diplomatic process with Syria," Aharoni said. "This is what the Foreign Ministry routinely does - it provides decision makers with intelligent and reliable assessments on a variety of issues." Aharoni said Dayan is to "map out" everything that has happened before with the Syrians "to provide the system with an updated document." Dayan's appointment comes at a time of debate both in Israel and the US about how to best deal with Syria - whether to place continuous pressure on the Damascus regime by isolating it diplomatically, or whether to make overtures toward it in the hopes of distancing Syria from Iranian influence.