Russia and Syria also on Rice's agenda

US Secretary of State expected to discuss Moscow's Mideast summit initiative during visit to Israel.

rice 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
rice 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Less than two weeks after US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that Russia's activities in Georgia called into question Moscow's "suitability for all kinds of activities that it has said that it wants to be a part of," Rice is expected to talk with Israeli officials during her trip here about Russia's stated desire to host an international meeting on the Middle East in November. Israeli officials on Sunday said that Israel had not officially made a decision regarding the conference. The officials stressed, however, that Jerusalem was continuing to send messages to the Kremlin that it did not want the crisis in Georgia to damage Israeli-Russian ties. The officials said that the Moscow conference would not only be raised during Rice's visit - she is scheduled to arrive Monday afternoon for some 36 hours - but also at a meeting of the Quartet in mid-September on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meeting. The Russians envision the meeting as a follow-up to last year's Annapolis conference. Although never specifically mentioning Russia's role in the Middle East diplomatic process - it is a member of the Quartet along with the US, EU and the UN - Rice hinted heavily in the last couple of weeks that Russia's actions in South Ossetia could jeopardize its full integration into international institutions and raise questions about its involvement as a full and equal partner on the world stage. And while the focus of Rice's talks here is expected to be the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, the subject of Israel's indirect talks with Syria is also expected to be raised as well. Israel and Syria are expected to renew their indirect negotiations in Turkey sometime next week, with Turkish sources saying that the situation in Georgia, and Syria's offer to Moscow to place advanced missiles on its soil as a counterbalance to the placement of US missiles in Poland, have not knocked the talks off track. "The two issues are separate," one Turkish source said. An Israeli diplomatic source agreed, saying that neither the situation in Georgia, nor Syria's request for state-of-the-art armaments from Russia, has altered Israel's interest in seeing whether it might be possible - through a peace agreement - to pull Syria out of Iran's orbit, and end its support for Hizbullah and Hamas. "Our interest with Syria remains the same," the official said. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's spokesman Mark Regev, who said that no date for the next round of talks has yet been released, said that the Syrian interest in advanced Russian arms has not changed Israel's position regarding the necessity of the talks. "We are committed to continuing on this track," Regev said. "Ultimately, the Syrian leadership has to chose between the path of peace, negotiation and reconciliation, and Iran, Hizbullah and Hamas. We hope that they chose the path of peace, but our eyes are wide open and we are closely following all developments." Syrian President Bashar Assad, meanwhile, reportedly told reporters in Damascus over the weekend that the upcoming round of indirect talks would be key. He also said that the previous rounds of indirect talks did not yield anything tangible. Israeli diplomatic officials concurred that the upcoming round could be "decisive" because they were likely to be the last round of talks before the Kadima primaries, and Damascus was not sure whether it would hear the same messages from a government headed by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni or Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz that it is now hearing from Olmert.