Israel-Syria talks 'constructive'

PM's advisers impressed by "atmosphere" of talks, head to Paris, fueling talk of Olmert-Assad meeting.

Olmert Assad 298.88 (photo credit: AP [archive])
Olmert Assad 298.88
(photo credit: AP [archive])
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's two top diplomatic advisers finished two days of indirect talks with Syria in Turkey on Monday, and headed for Paris, fueling speculation that they were trying to arrange a meeting between Olmert and Syrian President Bashar Assad at a regional conference in Paris next month. Sources in the Prime Minister's Office said that Olmert's chief of staff Yoram Turbowicz and his chief foreign policy adviser Shalom Turgeman wound up a second round of talks in Ankara and were impressed "by their positive atmosphere, and the constructive nature of the discussions." The two went to Ankara on Saturday night, and the talks were held Sunday and Monday. No details from the talks were released, although they reportedly dealt this time not only with procedural issues, but also with issues of "content." While Syria has made clear that it wants to see a full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights to the June 4, 1967 lines, Israel wants to see Syria end its support for Hamas and Hizbullah and significantly reduce its ties with Iran. This was the first round of talks since Israel, Syria and Turkey announced in dramatic fashion on May 21 that indirect talks were taking place. The Syrian team includes 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. While officially Turgeman and Turbowicz went to Paris to prepare for the visit next week of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, their trip - coming so closely on the heels of the round of talks in Turkey - has given rise to speculation that they were pressing Sarkozy to try and arrange an Olmert-Assad meeting in Paris on the sidelines of a meeting of potential members of a new union of Mediterranean EU states, to be held on July 13 in Paris. Olmert has already accepted an invitation to the conference, and it is widely expected that Assad - who is eager to break out of his international isolation - will also attend. One Israeli government source said, however, that it was extremely unlikely that Assad would agree at this time to a meeting with Olmert. The meeting, were it to materialize in Paris, would take place some three days before American financier Morris Talansky is expected back in Israel for a cross-examination in the Olmert corruption investigation.