'Turks want 'framework' for direct Israeli-Syrian talks'
Senior diplomatic officials not overly awed by Assad's comments that direct negotations must precede peace agreement.
By HERB KEINON
Turkey is keen on putting a "mechanism" in place that would make direct Syrian-Israeli talks possible before the February 10 Israeli elections, a senior government source said Tuesday.
The source said the idea was to have a framework up and working prior to the changing of the guard in the United States and Israel.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert wants to see things move forward to "the best starting point possible," the source said, but refused to elaborate on what type of framework Olmert had in mind.
On Monday, the same day Olmert was in Turkey talking with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan about the Syrian track, Syrian President Bashar Assad said he believed direct talks with Israel were possible and would eventually take place.
Assad said Israel and Syria were currently "laying the foundation" for peace through the indirect talks.
Senior diplomatic officials in Jerusalem were not overly awed by Assad's comments, saying he hadn't committed himself to anything and had only stated the obvious - that direct negotiations would necessarily precede a peace agreement.
According to one official, Assad's comments were designed to please the Turks, who have expended a lot of energy since May in mediating the indirect talks between Syria and Israel.
The official said Erdogan needed a high-profile international diplomatic success to deflect domestic criticism and gain legitimacy from the country's secular opposition. In addition, the official said, Erdogan wanted Turkey's mediation efforts to lead to something concrete, such as direct Israeli-Syrian talks, so he would have something to show the Europeans to help his stalled bid for admission to the EU.
Turkey's involvement in the negotiations, the official explained, cast Turkey in the "moderate and constructive" light in which it wanted to be seen.
Paving the way for direct talks would be a major Turkish diplomatic achievement, the source said, speculating that Assad's statement needed to be seen in the context of giving Erdogan something for his recent efforts.
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