PM: France could mediate Syria talks

Netanyahu We would acce

sarkozy and netanyahu in france (photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom / GPO)
sarkozy and netanyahu in france
(photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom / GPO)
In a first response to Syria's announcement that it was prepared to resume indirect negotiations with Israel mediated by Turkey, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Sunday said Israel would be willing to accept France as a mediator in peace negotiations with Syria. "If France would want to serve as a mediator, we would be willing," Netanyahu said at the weekly cabinet meeting. Netanyahu's statement came after Syrian President Bashar Assad on Friday called for talks to resume with Turkey as a mediator. The prime minister, however, said Jerusalem did not believe Ankara was objective enough to mediate the talks. "Israel is prepared to hold negotiations without precondition with the Syrians. I prefer direct talks, but if [they are] with a mediator then it must be fair. The Turkish prime minister [Recep Tayyip Erdogan] has not strengthened his image as an objective, fair mediator," said Netanyahu. Turkey mediated four rounds of indirect talks with Israel under former prime minister Ehud Olmert. Those efforts were halted when the IDF began Operation Cast Lead at the end of December and were never resumed. But the Turkish-Israeli relationship has recently become strained, leading to speculation that France could mediate any new talks. In an interview recorded on Friday afternoon and broadcast on France 2 television on Friday evening, Assad said France could play an important role in getting talks started. France "should support the role of the Turkish mediator and persuade Israel to return to the negotiating table with the Turkish mediator," he said. French-Turkish relations however, have also deteriorated, because French President Nicolas Sarkozy is a firm and vocal opponent of EU membership for Turkey. It is not clear whether Paris could have much influence with Ankara. Tovah Lazaroff and AP contributed to this report