Turkish FM: Talks between Israel, Syria possible

Turkish foreign minister says time is not yet right, but adds Ankara's mediation may bear fruit in the future.

babacan 224 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
babacan 224 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Turkey's foreign minister said Wednesday that his country's efforts to mediate a renewal of peace talks between Syria and Israel have been ongoing for a year, but that any direct talks between the foes will take more time. Ali Babacan told reporters that the two sides could meet in the presence of Turkish mediators at some point in the future if progress is made. In the meantime, his nation will continue to act as a go-between, he said. His remarks were the latest sign of some tempered optimism over back-channel contacts between Israel and Syria despite heightened tension over an alleged Israeli airstrike in September on a site in Syria that US intelligence officials contend was an unfinished nuclear reactor. "The two sides do not talk face to face at the moment and it will not happen for some time," Babacan said in response to a reporter's question. "But they will perhaps find the opportunity to do so in Turkey's presence if progress is made," he said at a joint news conference alongside his British counterpart, David Miliband, in the capital, Ankara. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last month that Turkey was trying to help start lower level negotiations between Israel and Syria. Turkey has been relaying messages between the two sides. Babacan said Wednesday that the efforts have been under way for nearly a year. Israel and Syria last held direct peace talks in 2000, but the negotiations failed over the details of Israel's proposed withdrawal from Golan Heights, which it seized in the 1967 Six Day War. Syria demands a full return of the territory, but Israel wanted to keep a small strip of land along the Sea of Galilee to ensure its control of its vital water supplies. Israel also demands Syria halt its support for terror groups, including Lebanon's Hizbullah and the Palestinian groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The current contacts are taking place despite high tensions between the two, largely stemming from the airstrike in September. US intelligence officials presented evidence to the US Congress last month that they say supports their case that Syria was building a nuclear reactor with North Korean assistance before Israel destroyed it. Syria says the site was an unused military facility.