Olmert: Peace with Syria is feasible

PM says deal would cut Damascus's Iran ties, set to travel to Turkey next week; Bibi backs Syria talks.

olmert erdogan 248 88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
olmert erdogan 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who announced suddenly that he will go to Turkey for talks on Monday, said Thursday evening that "a peace treaty between Israel and Syria is feasible" and would result in "significant advantages" for Israel. "A peace treaty would lower the possibility of war, break the strategic ties between Damascus and Teheran, lead to the expulsion of the Islamic Jihad and Hamas headquarters from Syria, and would stop the cash flow to Hizbullah," Olmert told a conference of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. "Syria does not necessarily want to be part of the axis of evil," he said. "Syria wants to reconnect with the West and the United States. "Removing Syria from the axis of evil is an Israeli interest." The prime minister said that although he could not guarantee the success of a peace process with Damascus, it was important to try. "How will we know if we don't try? How can we try if we are not prepared to take any risks?" he said. Olmert also said that the indirect Israel-Syria talks mediated by Turkey could lead to direct negotiations. His comments came after his office announced unexpectedly that he would meet with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in Ankara next week. Government spokesman Mark Regev said the two leaders would discuss regional issues. However, he did not elaborate. According to a statement put out by the Prime Minister's Office, Olmert spoke with Erdogan on the phone on Wednesday night, and the two decided to meet on Monday to discuss "bilateral and regional issues including the diplomatic processes in the region." One diplomatic official said that although the Syrian track would undoubtedly be discussed, the visit to Turkey was one of a number of farewell visits Olmert has made recently to friendly countries. Since becoming a lame duck prime minister with the election of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni as Kadima head in September, Olmert has traveled to Russia, the US, and Britain. He returned from a two-day visit to London on Wednesday. Likud Chairman and opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu on Thursday evening said that he supports diplomatic talks with Syria and intends to continue contacts with Damascus, Army Radio reported. However, Netanyahu said that Israel's security needs require an Israeli presence in the Golan Heights. He reportedly made the remarks at a meeting with French President Nicholas Sarkozy in Paris. Turkey has been mediating peace talks between Israel and Syria, but MKs from across the political spectrum have repeatedly said the negotiations should be put on hold until a new government is established. Damascus has also reportedly said that it would prefer to postpone further negotiations until that time. The fourth and last round of indirect talks in Turkey was held in July. A fifth round was put off following the resignation of Yoram Turbowicz, Olmert's chief-of-staff who was heading the talks. In October, speaking at a news conference in Ankara with visiting Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said there had been progress in the talks and that both sides were happy about the point they had reached. On Tuesday, Reuters reported that Damascus had drafted a document defining the boundaries of the Golan Heights and which puts Syria on the northeastern Kinneret shore. Jpost.com staff and AP contributed to this report.