Liel: Syria prepared to cut Iran ties

Ex-FM dir.-gen.: Move would come in exchange for US support, Assad wants to weaken Iran's influence.

Assad Ahmadinejad 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Assad Ahmadinejad 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Syria is prepared to cut its ties with Iran if the US provides it with financial and military backing, former director general of the Foreign Ministry Alon Liel told The Sunday Telegraph. According to Liel, who the paper said has been engaged in low-key "second track" discussions with Syrian representatives, Syrian President Bashar Assad was open to a deal which would weaken Iranian influence in the Middle East. Liel said prospects of peace with Syria had increased, though a new US president may need to be elected before a deal could be reached. "They are asking not only for the Golan Heights but a change in Washington that will break the Syrian isolation internationally," said Liel. "But I also think they will not do it unless they are assured they have an alternative to Iran." Liel went on to say that "months" of negotiations still lay ahead to bridge the gaps between the two sides. Nevertheless, progress has been reported on issues including borders and water. "The Golan Heights is considered our Tuscany. Israelis fell in love with the Golan - and it's a very easy conflict for us. That's why it's so difficult to convince Israel to withdraw," Liel continued. Meanwhile, Israeli officials have confirmed that Turkey will host a fourth round of indirect talks between Israel and Syria later this month. Jerusalem officials have said that a real sign of progress will be when direct contacts begin and Israel is ready to step up the level of negotiations. However, officials connected to the contacts did not expect Damascus to permit such direct talks this month. Turkish mediators have been shuttling between the Syrian and Israeli delegations in Istanbul throughout three rounds of talks that began in May. No result has been made public. Previously, Turkey had been holding contacts with the two countries, laying the groundwork for the indirect talks. A Turkish government official also said a fourth round of talks was scheduled for the end of July. That round would aim to get direct talks started, he said, but warned that it might still be early for a breakthrough. Any agreement for direct negotiations between Syria and Israel would be a major victory for Turkey and help it proclaim a role as a major diplomatic player. Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said last week that Turkey aimed to bring "the sides together around a table for direct talks," but warned that "progress will take time." "We are still at the beginning of the process," he added. Babacan went on to say that "there is hope for peace as long as there is political will and determination on both sides." "If these talks end positively, then this will definitely influence the climate in the Middle East and even in a larger geography," he said.