Syria: We're ready to negotiate

Syrian FM says talks mustn't affect Israeli-Palestinian peace process; Meridor urges gov't to accept offer.

Walid Moallem 248 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Walid Moallem 248 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Syria is ready to renew negotiations with Israel on condition that this move will not influence the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, the country's foreign minister, Walid Moallem, was quoted as saying Friday. Regarding Russia's initiative for a conference as a follow-up to November's Annapolis summit, the Syrian foreign minister stated that his country could not allow itself to be absent from the conference, as the Golan Heights issue would again be discussed. "We attended the conference at Annapolis, it is only natural that we also attend the conference in Moscow," said Moallem, Israel Radio reported. However, on Thursday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that he was not even convinced of the utility of such a get-together for the Palestinian track. It followed Lavrov's announcement in Damascus that the touted peace conference would deal with the Golan. Olmert, who told Lavrov that he would be holding another meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the near future, said he was not sure of the need for another international conference. Syria also came up during a meeting Lavrov held with President Shimon Peres on Thursday, with Peres saying that Damascus was continuing to transfer weapons to Hizbullah in Lebanon, and that this transfer of weapons called into question the sincerity of Syria's signals regarding peace negotiations. Lavrov said Moscow needed more concrete information on the matter. Meanwhile, former justice minister Dan Meridor said that the government should respond to the Syrian overtures and open peace talks with the country. Speaking to Israel Radio on Friday morning, Meridor said that when an Arab country offers to negotiate, it is the obligation of the government to examine the initiative, despite the risks involved and the high price that will need to be paid. The former MK added that in view of the fact that Damascus is currently isolated and under international pressure, now is the right time to check if there is are chances of Syrian flexibility in setting a border with Israel. He also said proposals to lease the Golan on a trial basis should be assessed. Meridor stressed that opening discussions with Syria was vital in order to break the axis between Teheran and Damascus, to halt its support for Hizbullah and other terror organizations, and to stop the country arming itself with missiles and weapons of mass destruction. Meanwhile, outgoing Meretz chairman Yossi Beilin on Friday urged Olmert to accept Russia's proposal to hold the Moscow peace conference. Beilin called Lavrov's offer an "important initiative" saying such a conference would "increase the chances of peace between Israel and Syria as well as with Lebanon," Israel Radio reported. Herb Keinon contributed to this report.