Olmert to update Bush on Syria talks

Arab press: Damascus rejects call to distance from terror groups; Hanegbi: Elections if talks succeed.

tzahi hanegbi  224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
tzahi hanegbi 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is expected to update US President George W. Bush on the latest developments in the talks between Israel and Syria when the two leaders meet at the White House next week, although it is not clear whether the next round of talks in Istanbul will take place before the Olmert-Bush meeting. On Friday, the Turkish newspaper Sabah reported that the negotiations would resume either this week or in June at the same Istanbul hotel. An Israeli source would only say that the talks were expected to resume "shortly." Sabah also reported that the two delegations communicated via written messages delivered by Turkish emissaries during the three days of contacts last week, and that while both teams stayed in the same Istanbul hotel, they never met face-to-face. Meanwhile, officials in Jerusalem continue to stress that any peace deal agreed to between Israel and Syria will be brought to the Knesset for approval, regardless of any referendum on the issue. The officials told The Jerusalem Post that such a move might come before or after an election. Officials remain tight-lipped on the details of the indirect contacts, via Turkish mediators, which were first revealed last Wednesday. Over the weekend, Syria rejected Israel's demand that Damascus cut its ties with Iran and Arab terrorist groups as a condition for a peace agreement, the state newspaper Tishrin said Saturday. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni had said Thursday that Syria would have to stop supporting Hamas and Hizbullah and cut ties with Iran if any agreement were to happen. Saturday's editorial in Tishrin said that Israel could not lay down conditions ahead of negotiations. "Damascus does not want preconditions, that would put the cart before the horse... It does not bargain over its relations with other countries and people," the editorial stated. "It goes without saying that impossible conditions cannot facilitate the work of negotiators," added the editorial. Also on Saturday, chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Tzahi Hanegbi, expressed skepticism about the chances of Israeli-Syrian talks ripening into a peace agreement. In comments to Israel Radio, Hanegbi said that if the sides did formulate a draft agreement, its implementation would have to be decided by elections, and not just a referendum. Keeping the Golan Heights in Israeli hands has strategic advantages, Hanegbi said, but dialogue with Syria also has clear bonuses. A dialogue between Jerusalem and Damascus could have a mitigating effect on Syria in case Israel were to enter a military conflict with Hamas, Hizbullah or even Iran, Hanegbi said. "It's understood that Syria wants to have the Golan Heights, and Israel wants a total [Syrian] disassociation from Hamas, Hizbullah and Iran. It's a red line, to ensure our security... and to prevent a surprise attack." AP contributed to this report