PM reportedly asks Sarkozy to deliver message to Assad

Assad Talks, resistanc

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu asked French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Wednesday evening to deliver a message to Syria saying that Israel was ready to begin immediate, direct negotiations, Channel 1 reported. The two leaders met for more than an hour-and-a-half in Paris. When they emerged, they shook hands but did not speak to reporters. They announced no progress on their differences over Jewish settlements in the West Bank. In a joint statement, they said they "agreed to deploy all efforts" toward "immediately reviving the peace process." They also discussed international efforts to stop Iran's nuclear program. Israel Radio reported that Sarkozy telephoned Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas while he was meeting with Netanyahu and asked Abbas to resume negotiations immediately. Syrian President Bashar Assad is expected to arrive in Paris on Thursday, hours after Netanyahu leaves on his way back to Israel. Netanyahu's message to Assad, as reported by Channel 1, echoes statements he made at the North American Zionist Federations' General Assembly on Monday, directed at Abbas, when he called on him to "get on with" negotiations. The prime minister's message to Syria comes as ties between Israel and Turkey are strained. Turkey served as an important go-between in Syria-Israeli peace talks during the tenure of former prime minister Ehud Olmert. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly criticized Israel over Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, and his statements have become increasingly blunt; last week, Erdogan said he would prefer meeting Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, the target of an international arrest warrant over alleged war crimes and potential genocide, than with Netanyahu. Even Assad earlier this week stressed that Turkey must maintain ties with the Jewish state so that peace negotiations between the countries can continue. But on Wednesday, Assad insisted that "resistance," along with negotiations, would point the way forward to Mideast peace. "The essence of peace is not just negotiations but rather, resistance as well," state-run SANA news agency quoted Assad as saying. Speaking at a conference of Arab political parties in Damascus, Assad said that by supporting "resistance" he also supports the peace process. Armed fighting and peace talks are parts of the same "axis" to recover legitimate Palestinian rights, the Syrian leader said. Earlier, Assad said that his country was not setting preconditions to peace talks with Israel, but rather was insisting on its rights. "Opposing the occupation is central to our policy. If we are strong enough, we will achieve the peace we want," Israel Radio quoted the Syrian president as saying.