Israel-Syria indirect talks to resume in Istanbul

However, diplomatic officials say chances of PM meeting Assad in Paris later this month have receded.

Turbowicz 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
Turbowicz 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
Israel and Syria were to resume indirect talks in Istanbul on Tuesday, even as the chances of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert meeting Syrian President Bashar Assad in Paris later this month have receded, diplomatic officials said Monday. One Western diplomatic official said that while France, which is assuming the rotating presidency of the EU on Tuesday, could facilitate an Olmert-Assad meeting at the launch of a new union of EU and Mediterranean states in Paris on July 13, the time was not yet ripe for one. "Olmert wouldn't mind direct talks, and doesn't have any problems shaking hands with Assad," the official said, adding that it was the Syrians who had expressed reservations both about direct talks and an Olmert-Assad handshake. With that being the case, the official said, Olmert was "very flexible," said he understood Assad's problems, and that there was no need now for French President Nicolas Sarkozy to push for a handshake or even a trilateral Israeli-Syrian-French meeting in Paris. The official said that the third round of talks, which are set to begin on Tuesday, would likely be followed by a fourth round within 10 days. Israel, Syria and Turkey announced on May 21 that indirect talks were being held. A second round of talks was held in mid-June. According to the official, the Israeli and Syrian delegations are housed in separate hotels during the indirect talks, and the Turkish mediators shuttle between them. The indirect talks are believed to be dealing with creating a framework for direct Israeli-Syrian negotiations, with Israel saying that a discussion of a withdrawal from the Golan Heights was premature until it was assured that the signing of an agreement would bring about an end to Syria's alliance with Iran. The Syrian alliance with Iran is an issue that was not dealt with in previous Syrian-Israeli negotiations. The EU's ambassador to Israel, Ramiro Cibrián-Uzal, said at a press briefing Monday that Israel's expectation that Syria cut ties with Iran, which would then open the way for Syria's "reintegration" into the West, could not be done without the full engagement of the US and the EU in the process. And this, he said, was unlikely to happen until after a new US president was sworn into office, since President George W. Bush had reluctantly accepted the current process with a lot of skepticism. Cibrian-Uzal said that while direct Israeli-Syrian talks could be held without full US engagement, an active US role would be necessary for the negotiation's final phases. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's chief of staff, Yoram Turbowicz, and Olmert's foreign policy adviser, Shalom Turgeman, will represent Israel in the talks Tuesday, as they have done in the previous rounds. The Syrian delegation is expected to be headed up by Riad Daoudi, a legal expert in the Syrian Foreign Ministry, and Sami Taqi, head of a think tank in Damascus considered close to the government. The Turkish mediators are Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's leading foreign policy adviser, Ahmet Davutog'lu, and Feridun Sinirlioglu, a deputy undersecretary in the Turkish Foreign Ministry who was formerly Turkey's ambassador to Israel.