Syrian agency: Peace talks to continue Thursday

Champress says negotiations to take place in Istanbul; Assad: We demand Golan up to Tiberias.

Bashar Assad 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Bashar Assad 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
The second round of Israeli-Syrian talks will take place in Istanbul and will begin this Thursday, Turkish sources were quoted by the Syrian Champress news agency as saying, Tuesday. The sources said that during the first round of talks the sides have reached agreement on several subjects, first and foremost an Israeli acquiescence to cede the Golan Heights. The talks on Thursday will focus on the makeup of the committees which will eventually iron out the wording of a peace agreement both Jerusalem and Damascus hope to achieve. The Champress report could not be independently verified by The Jerusalem Post; however the agency is considered a reliable reflection of the views prevalent in the presidential palace in Damascus. A Jordanian paper echoed the Champress report, quoting Syrian sources that noted optimistically that the sides have reached agreement on the four main issues: Security, water, borders and normalization. While Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is currently in Washington DC, the Prime Minister's Office denied that talks will continue on Thursday, saying only that diplomacy will continue after the prime minister concludes his American visit. On Monday, Syrian President Bashar Assad vowed never to give up his demand that the entire Golan Heights be returned to Syrian control, "all the way up to Tiberias." "With regards to the issue of water - there are international laws which deal with these kinds of matters," Assad told reporters during a press conference in the United Arab Emirates. "But if the question of water means that Syria will give up on its condition of stability - sticking to the '67 borders all the way to Tiberias - we will never compromise on the 1967 borders." Syrian-Israeli peace negotiations "will need international sponsorship in later stages of talks, particularly from the US," Bashar continued, explaining that the US was in an important position due to its status as a world power and its special and strong connections with Israel. But the Syrian president stressed that talks were still in preliminary stages. Asked on Syria's position in the event that Iran is attacked by Western powers, the Syrian leader said Syria did not intend to get involved in a war. He added that if war breaks out, the main casualties would be Iran's neighbors. He added that he had made this clear to the US. Finally, on the issue of Syria's nuclear aspirations, Assad said Syria was interested in a peaceful program to develop nuclear energy. But he said the nation would advance such a program through the Arab League when the time comes. Meanwhile, speaking during a tour of the Golan Heights on Tuesday, Transporation Minister Shaul Mofaz warned of the consequences of giving the region back to Syria, saying that it would in effect allow Iran a military presence right on the border with Israel. "As of today, the renewal of indirect talks with Syria is important in and of itself," Mofaz said, but added that "distance between speaking and giving something up is very long. Handing over the Golan to Syria, would in effect mean the Iranians [would gain a foothold] here, in the Golan Heights." Mofaz added that Israel cannot "sign on an agreement until we know for certain that Syria wants real peace." Until then, he said, "the Golan will remain in Israel."