PM: Syria must choose between peace, isolation

In speech at Hebrew University, Olmert says time will come when Syrian signals won't be enough.

olmert assad 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
olmert assad 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
As a fourth round of indirect negotiations between Syria and Israel began in Turkey on Tuesday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the time had come for Damascus to make a choice between Iran and isolation, or peace and cooperation. "The negotiations we are carrying out today with Turkish mediation are serious and to the point," he said at the National Security College graduation ceremony on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem. "They are meant to bring, at the end of the day, peace between the countries, and welfare for the people." But, he said, the peace depended "first and foremost" on strategic choices that the Syrian leadership needed to make. "At a certain point signals will not be enough, as positive as they may be," Olmert said. "At that stage, Syria will have to decide between the Iranian grip, being a partner in the axis of evil and international isolation, and between peace, economic development and joining the family of nations." Israel was continuing with the negotiations in good faith "with the goal being to place before Syria a true alternative that will cause it to make the right decisions," he said. Olmert's chief of staff, Yoram Turbowicz, and his chief foreign policy adviser, Shalom Turgeman, began the fourth round of talks with their Syrian counterparts in Istanbul on Tuesday, through Turkish mediators. Olmert said the security establishment showed "maturity and strategic vision" in supporting the talks with the Syrians from the outset, believing that the "potential benefits outweigh the risks in the peace talks with Syria, and that this opportunity must be explored." Even as Olmert intimated about the need for the talks to move to the next stage - direct negotiations - Syria seemed to be sending signals that such a move was not imminent. Israel Radio reported that Syrian sources were quoted in the United Arab Emirates newspaper Al-Khaleej as saying that while progress was being made in the talks, that didn't mean the two sides would enter direct talks soon, and that the volatile political situation in Israel, and the transitory political period the US was entering into, would make it more difficult to go to direct talks now. Syrian President Bashar Assad has indicated that he would like to see more US involvement in the process before beginning direct talks, something unlikely until after January 20, when a new US presidential administration takes over. Meanwhile, a Turkish government source told Reuters that Ankara was happy with the progress in the talks. "It is taking place in a positive atmosphere and moving forward quickly. But we may need a couple of more rounds [of talks] in order to go into direct talks," the source was quoted as saying.