'Peace talks mustn't start from scratch'

Assad says agreements reached on 80% of topics discussed in negotiations before Rabin's murder.

Bashar Assad 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Bashar Assad 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Direct negotiations between Syria and Israel must resume from the point where they left off before the assassination of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, Syrian President Bashar Assad was quoted as saying Friday. In an interview with India's national newspaper The Hindu, Assad added that in talks back then, agreements were reached on 80 percent of the topics discussed. The Syrian president reiterated that Israel had not asked Syria to cut its ties with Iran, Hizbullah or Hamas, emphasizing that Israel had agreed to negotiations without preconditions. Assad repeated his claim that the site bombed by the IDF in September 2007 was a military facility and that Israel attacked the site without knowing what it was. He said had Israel reported its suspicions earlier, IAEA inspectors could have been invited to the site to examine the false allegations that it was a nuclear reactor. Assad said this was the Israelis' way, of trickery and fraud, and that it proved Jerusalem was not serious about peace. Therefore, said the Syrian president, peace negotiations were being conducted indirectly. Israeli and Syrian negotiators are expected to meet in Turkey next week to continue indirect negotiations that were made public some three weeks ago. Israel will be represented by Olmert's chief of staff, Yoram Turbowicz, and his foreign policy adviser Shalom Turgeman, while the Syrian team will be headed up by Riad Daoudi, a legal expert in the Syrian Foreign Ministry, and Sami Taqi, head of a think tank in Damascus considered close to the government. The Turkish mediators are Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's leading foreign policy adviser, Ahmet Davutog'lu, and Feridun Sinirlioglu, a former Turkish ambassador to Israel who is currently the deputy undersecretary in the Turkish Foreign Ministry. Olmert and Assad are likely to attend the same conference in Paris in July, but Israeli diplomatic officials played down the significance on Wednesday, saying the conference would deal with regional Mediterranean issues rather than bilateral Israeli-Syrian ones. Nevertheless, if the two leaders do attend the summit for potential members of a union of Mediterranean states that French President Nicolas Sarkozy is trying to get off the ground, it will mark the first time the two will have attended the same conference. Next week, Assad is expected to visit New Delhi with a Syrian economic delegation. The delegation is expected to sign five agreements for cooperation with India, principally in the fields of agriculture, economics and communications. It is set to be the first visit to India by a Syrian president in 30 years. Herb Keinon contributed to this report