Erdogan met Assad to discuss peace talks
Erdogan and Assad discussed attemps to re-start peace talks between Syria and Israel.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Saturday to discuss Turkish attempts to help relaunch peace talks between Syria and Israel.
Turkey, a mainly Muslim country with close ties with Israel, has been relaying messages between Syria and Israel for months, diplomats say.
Syrian officials say Erdogan called Assad last week to tell him Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had told Turkey that Israel was willing to give back all of Syria's Golan Heights in return for peace with Syria.
"The trust Turkey has makes it almost obligatory to take on a mediating role," Erdogan told reporters in Turkey before flying to the Syrian capital.
"The peace diplomacy we carry out will have a positive contribution ... whether in Iraq, between Syria and Israel or between Israel and Palestine."
Assad told Qatar's al-Watan newspaper this week that Syria was ready to negotiate with Israel through Turkey to "find common ground" for peace, but any direct talks must wait until a new U.S. president was elected.
Olmert, who has been on holiday in the Golan Heights this month, told the daily Yedioth Ahronoth last week, in answer to a question on pulling out of the Golan, that he was working to achieve a "significant move" for peace with Syria.
Erdogan is due to leave Damascus later on Saturday after having lunch with Assad. He earlier opened a Syrian-Turkish business forum.
"There was misunderstanding between our two countries in the past, but we look forward to a new era. Our economic ties are buoyant and there is strong political will to develop them," Erdogan told the businessmen. The Damascus government has been rebuilding relations with Ankara after they were strained by Damascus support for Turkish separatists a decade ago.
Erdogan said Turkey plans to remove minefields along the border with Syria that were planted to stop the movement of Kurdish rebels into Syria.
Turkey, which is a NATO member, also has good ties with Israel. Ankara has been trying to boost its diplomatic weight and expand the market for its booming exports, with more than $800 million of exports to Syria alone.
The issue of how much of the Golan Israel would give back scuppered a decade of talks between Syria and Israel in 2000. Israel occupied the Golan Heights in 1967 and annexed them in 1981 in a move rejected by the U.N. Security Council.
The United States has accused Syria of covert nuclear activity that was the target of an Israeli strike last year. The raid did not prompt retaliation from Damascus.
Reuters Last Mod: 26 Nisan 2008, 16:28