Talks not derailed by Assad's Iran trek

Israel won't reevaluate indirect talks with Damascus for now, despite signs Syria-Iran ties are strong.

assad ahmadinajed 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
assad ahmadinajed 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Israel will not reevaluate its indirect talks with Damascus as a result of Syrian President Bashar Assad's visit to Teheran over the weekend, diplomatic sources said Sunday, even though the trip was widely seen in Jerusalem as a sign Syria has no intention of loosening its ties to Iran. "There is no reason for any decision yet," the sources said, adding that a decision on whether to condition talks with Syria on its showing a willingness to break away, at least partly, from Iran would not have to be made at least until the sides were at a point where they could enter direct negotiations. Assad's high-profile visit to Teheran, which included a press conference Sunday with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was a routine trip that showed just how close the two countries had become, the sources said. They dismissed speculation that part of the reason for the visit was to explain Damascus's indirect contacts with Israel. Assad, the sources said, explained Syria's position vis-a-vis the Turkish-mediated talks with Israel to the Iranians weeks ago. Israel and Syria completed a fourth round of indirect talks in Istanbul last month, with a fifth round expected later this month. While Assad has said that any agreement with Israel would necessitate a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights, Israel has said Syria would have to break out of Iran's orbit, and stop supporting Hizbullah and Hamas. Assad, meanwhile, took pains Sunday to stress that he wasn't in Teheran trying to get Ahmadinejad to cooperate with Western negotiators and provide proof Iran wasn't pursuing nuclear weapons. "Syria's position is based on international treaties and agreements. Every country that is a member of the IAEA and that has signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty has the right to nuclear energy and the right to conduct research for peaceful purposes," Assad said at a press conference with Ahmadinejad. Assad addressed reports that he was asked by French President Nicolas Sarkozy to press for greater Iranian cooperation with the West, and said that his visit to Teheran was scheduled prior to the recent Mediterranean conference in Paris during which he met the French president. "I did not come on this visit as a mediator nor a messenger and I did not bring with me any messages from Western sources," Assad said. Nonetheless, he said the discussions in Teheran addressed Iran's nuclear program, among other issues. "When we attended the Paris conference, we clarified our position to the French in a direct manner. We emphasized that with regards to the Iranian nuclear program, the only solution is through dialogue. I came to Iran to get more details on the matter," he said. Ahmadinejad, meanwhile, said diplomacy was the only way out of his country's standoff with the West, and insisted he was serious about negotiations. Iran's leader made the comments a day after asserting that his country would not give up its "nuclear rights," signaling that it would refuse demands to stop enriching uranium or at least not to expand its enrichment work. An informal deadline expired this weekend on an offer of economic and other incentives by six world powers if Iran agreed to curb uranium enrichment. Ahmadinejad said Saturday that his country's participation in any international talks would "be aimed at reinforcing" Iran's right under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to enrich uranium for a civilian power program. On Sunday, the Iranian leader repeated that his country was "serious in nuclear talks" and hoped "the other side" would be as well. "In case he hasn't noticed, we are trying to talk with them," White House press secretary Dana Perino said. "The door is open, they just need to step through it by suspending their enrichment of uranium."