'PA, Syrian tracks won't conflict'

PM tells French FM Syria knows what Israel wants and vice versa; Barak: Painful concessions bilateral.

olmert kouchner 224.88 (photo credit: GPO)
olmert kouchner 224.88
(photo credit: GPO)
Israel intends to conduct negotiations on both the Syrian and Palestinian tracks, with neither coming at the expense of the other, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Thursday, a day after the announcement of Turkish-mediated diplomatic negotiations between Israel and Syria. "The Syrians know what we want and we know what they want," Olmert told French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner during a meeting in Jerusalem. The prime minister emphasized that Israel aspired to reach peace with the Palestinians in the coming year and added that both his talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on this issue and the talks between the heads of the negotiating teams, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and PA negotiator Ahmad Qurei, were "serious and important." Defense Minister Ehud Barak also referred to the renewed peace talks with Syria during the fifth annual Lag B'Omer salute to IDF reservists at the President's Residence in Jerusalem. "Bringing Syria out of the circle of hostilities is an important step but we need to remain realistic, peace can only by achieved from a vantage point of strength and self assertiveness," Barak said at the ceremony in which commanders of outstanding air, sea and land reservist units received citations. Barak declared that the the two sides would be required to make "painful" concessions. "The Syrians know, like us, that these concessions are bilateral, but a peace agreement is still a long way off." "Israel's military might and deterrence are meant first and foremost to prevent a war and make peace possible. Israel desires peace and extends its hand for peace with its neighbors," added the defense minister. Also Thursday afternoon, Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said that the three-day Turkish-mediated peace negotiations between Israel and Syria "satisfied" both sides and would continue periodically. "Both sides were satisfied that the talks - which went on for three days on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in Istanbul - resulted in finding a common ground," Babacan told reporters in Ankara. "The talks will continue periodically," he continued. Earlier Thursday, the Prime Minister's Office stated that "when the negotiations with Syria move on to a more practical track, talks will be held directly, without Turkish mediation." Meanwhile, as Israel urged Syria to cut its ties with terror organizations, Hamas insisted that the renewed peace talks would not affect its ties with Damascus. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri described Hamas-Syria ties as "strong and strategic," and said that they would remain so in spite of the Israeli-Syrian track. Zuhri made the comments in an interview with an Iranian Arabic language television station. However, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said that Syria had to completely cut its support for terror organizations. "Israel has always aspired for peace with its neighbors, but the Syrians must understand that this involves their complete renunciation of support for terror in Hamas, Hizbullah and Iran," said Livni, at the start of her meeting with Kouchner on Thursday morning. After his meeting with Livni, Kouchner told Israel Radio that he was under the impression that this week was a successful one, since negotiations with Syria had been announced, and added that there was hope for peace. The French foreign minister expressed hope that there would be serious discussions between the two sides. "It looks as if things are getting better," he concluded. Meanwhile, echoing Livni's words, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz spoke in favor of dialogue with Syria, but warned that its ties with Iran had to end first. "I've known about the channel for a long time. [Olmert] updated me on this issue and others," he told Israel Radio. "Talking to our enemies is a correct process. Every government needs to initiate processes of dialogue… It can ease pressure with Syria," Mofaz told Israel Radio. But, he continued, "the Syrians are deep in the regional terror. The first condition is them stopping support for Iran. They can't call for destroying Israel while negotiating peace." Mofaz said Israel should look into leasing the Golan from Syria. Giving them the Golan now meant giving it to Iran, he said. Earlier Thursday, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem reiterated Syria's demand that Israel fully withdraw from the Golan Heights. In an interview with the London-based daily Al Hayat, Moallem said, "Syria cannot progress even one step forward in negotiations before it receives assurances that Israel will fully withdraw from the Golan Heights. This is not a precondition, it's Syria's right." A top Syrian source said the talks between Jerusalem and Damascus focus on establishing a schedule for Israel's withdrawal and other related issues, and not on the notion of withdrawal itself, which was non-negotiable, the paper reported. Greer Fay Cashman contributed to this report