More Syria talks following 'progress'

4th round of indirect negotiations expected next week, as sides reportedly talking borders, security.

olmert assad 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
olmert assad 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Israel and Syria are expected to hold a fourth round of indirect diplomatic talks in Turkey next week, amid reports that the two sides are dealing with issues such as borders, water rights, security, and normalization of ties. The Washington Post's David Ignatius wrote Thursday, citing Syrian sources, that agreement was close in three areas: water rights, borders and security, with little progress having been made on normalization issues. Officials in the Prime Minister's Office, who have kept all information about the indirect negotiations very close to the chest, would not confirm the report. Turkish officials, however, said it was difficult to speak about getting close to agreement while the negotiations remained indirect. "We are very serious," one official in the Prime Minister's Office said of the Turkish-mediated talks. "We know what they expect, and they know what we expect. But if it is to become serious, the negotiations have to be direct." Syrian President Bashar Assad has indicted that serious US involvement would be a precondition for direct talks, and that this is something he did not foresee until there was a new administration in Washington. Meanwhile, European officials said that the indirect talks between Syria and Israel have created a certain air of detente between Europe and Syria. The officials said there was a degree of hope now that Syria would distance itself from Iran and play a more positive role. Despite the thawing of the West's relations with Syria, the officials said there was continued concern about arms deliveries from Iran to Hizbullah. The officials said Syria had been informed of unwritten conditions for improving relations with Europe, including convincing Hamas to be more cooperative in negotiations over the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit. Last week in Paris, French President Nicolas Sarkozy asked Assad to speak with Damascus-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal about Schalit, but it is not clear whether he has indeed done so. The officials said that France, by reestablishing ties with Syria, is now in a position to offer Syria "carrots" in exchange for greater cooperation.