Israel should seriously consider opening negotiations with Damascus, Defense Minister Ehud Barak reportedly said in a closed forum recently. Barak, Army Radio reported Thursday, said Syrian participation in the upcoming Middle East conference in Annapolis, Maryland, could lead to direct talks between the countries. Such a scenario could also sever Syrian President Bashar Assad's ties with Iran, according to the defense minister. Meanwhile, Syria's ambassador to Washington belittled the US-sponsored conference as a "waste," saying he would counsel his country against attending. "We don't seriously believe that this is a peace conference that will lead to anywhere," Ambassador Imad Moustapha said at a public affairs forum in San Francisco on Wednesday. No proposals had been circulated beforehand to lay the groundwork for progress at the gathering, Moustapha said, raising questions about how serious Washington was about the conference. "Forgive us if we deduce that this is only about a photo opportunity and about people in Washington, DC, telling their electorate, 'Look, don't accuse us of only starting wars; we're working for peace in the Middle East,'" the ambassador said. Syria has said it would attend only if discussions included the return of the Golan Heights. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said the administration wants Syria to participate, but that the conference must focus on the Palestinians and not on Syria's grievances. The United States has set high expectations for the summit, saying it hopes to launch full peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians after a seven-year lull. Moustapha said excluding the possibility of talking about the Golan Heights at the gathering was "preposterous, but this is exactly what the US administration has said." "And we are supposed to just come ... be bemused, enjoy our time and leave?" he asked. "Personally, if my government will ask my opinion, I will say it will be a waste of money, buying those expensive airline tickets and reservations in hotels, just to come attend this event in Maryland and then go back to Syria."