Ayalon: Too early to resume Syria talks

Deputy FM: No US plan for Israel-Syria peace; Moallem: West Bank settlements obstructing peace.

Danny Ayalon 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Danny Ayalon 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Talk of a resumption of Israeli-Syrian peace negotiations is "very premature considering Syrian intransigence and support for terror," Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. Speculation is rampant in Israel after the arrival of American diplomat and Syria expert Frederick Hoff, a top adviser to American Middle East envoy George Mitchell. Hoff's visit, which is taking place from Sunday to Wednesday, includes meetings with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Ayalon, National Security Adviser Uzi Arad and a host of senior military and defense officials. After the meetings, he will fly to Damascus for meetings with Syrian President Bashar Assad and Foreign Minister Walid Muallem. Ayalon denied outright Israeli media reports that Hoff was bringing with him an early draft of an American plan for an Israel-Syria compromise on the Golan Heights. "There are no maps or plans, but rather [the visit] is part of a continuing dialogue and consultation, as befits two close allies," said Ayalon, adding that "Israel remains interested in looking closely at regional issues." Hoff has met in the past with Israeli security officials, including Uzi Arad. A statement by the Prime Minister's Office noted only that "Israel's stance on the Syrian issue is known - it is willing to renew negotiations without preconditions." Syria is demanding Israeli acquiescence to a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights before agreeing to negotiate, and Muallem on Monday charged that Israeli settlements in the West Bank posed an "obstacle to peace." Speaking in Damascus alongside European Union representative to the Middle East Mark Otte, the Syrian foreign minister urged the world to push Israel into accepting "the necessary conditions for peace." An American diplomatic official confirmed to the Post that "Hoff's title includes responsibility for Syria and Lebanon," but did not give specific information about the meetings.