Damascus ready to resume indirect talks

Newly-appointed ambassador to Ankara says "ball in Israel's court," peace Syria's strategic choice.

ASSAD ERDOGAN 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
(photo credit: AP)
Syria is ready to resume Turkish-mediated indirect talks with Israel, despite Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's statements to the effect that he would not cede the Golan Heights in a future peace agreement with Damascus, the newly-appointed Syrian ambassador to Ankara said Tuesday. "We, as the Syrian administration, have the utmost confidence in this honorable and decent role that Turkey has played," Nidal Kabalan told the state-run Anatolian Agency, referring to Turkey's sponsorship of several rounds of negotiations between representatives of then-prime minister Ehud Olmert and Syrian officials. The Syrian statement came only three days after Netanyahu told Likud ministers that "Israel will not withdraw from the Golan Heights." Kabalan said that such remarks showed that Netanyahu's character was not favorable towards peacemaking, and emphasized that Israel had to push for peace if it really wanted to achieve it. "The ball is in Israel's court right now," he said. "Whenever Israel thinks it is ready, then we are ready to talk." Kabalan added that his country had "chosen peace as a strategic option" and was determined "to go down that road so long as the territories under occupation are returned to their owners." In March, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the country was ready to resume mediation between Israel and Syria. The Turkish prime minister said the negotiations could recommence if both countries so desired, stressing that it would also depend on the approach of the new Israeli government. Turkey mediated four rounds of indirect talks between Israel and Syria last year, with the last formal round in July. In December, less than a week before Operation Cast Lead, Olmert was in Ankara, and - with Olmert in a room next door - Erdogan reportedly had Damascus on the line, trying to get the two sides to agree on a formula to begin direct negotiations. No agreement was reached at the time, and following the Gaza operation, ties with Turkey nosedived. Herb Keinon contributed to this report