US would allow negotiations with Syria

PM: Americans have not tried to dissuade me from seeking talks with Assad.

assad 298.88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
assad 298.88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
Sources in the government said on Thursday that they believed the US would not try to prevent Israel from holding negotiations with Syria if Jerusalem decided to lend an ear to Syrian President Bashar Assad's peace overtures, Army Radio reported on Thursday morning. On Wednesday evening, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that, contrary to reports, no senior US officials had called to discourage him from holding talks with Assad. Olmert recently stated that he believed it would be possible to reach an agreement with Syria - if the country stopped supporting terror. "I expect that Assad would not make bombastic statements that are not based upon any real plan," said Olmert said, referring to recent invitations the Syrian president has made to bring Olmert to the negotiations table. "I expect that he means to make a [positive] impact on the political process," added the prime minister. Olmert said that he planned to aim for negotiations with Syria, "even if [the process] will be difficult and entails dangers." On Tuesday however, Israel's leaders seemed to show a different stance on the Syrian front when in a briefing at the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni questioned whether Assad was truly interested in peace or merely in negotiations. At the same briefing, Foreign Ministry Diplomatic Research Department head Nimrod Barkan said that Syria was "interested in entering negotiations in order to alleviate international pressure." But Foreign Ministry officials said Barkan was not endorsing the view of Military Intelligence Research Division head Yossi Baidatz, who told the same panel on Monday that he believes Assad is sincere. Mossad chief Meir Dagan told them the opposite last week, saying the Syrian leader should not be taken seriously because his country was preparing for war with Israel. "Syria is sending signals it wants negotiations and we are obligated to ask ourselves whether Assad wants only negotiations or if he wants peace at the end of the process," Livni said. "The Syrians want to negotiate because it helps their situation and aids their effort to overcome the international threats against them, but we have to ask ourselves what we would get at the end of a diplomatic process," she said. Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.