Israeli envoys propose Olmert meet Syria's Assad

According to an Israeli source, French President Nicolas Sarkozy is trying to arrange a three-way meeting with Olmert and Assad during the Euro-Med conference but has not yet received final confirmation from Damascus.

Israeli envoys propose Olmert meet Syria's Assad
Israeli envoys holding a new round of indirect peace talks with Syrian counterparts in Turkey will propose that the two leaders meet at a Paris conference next month, Israeli political sources said on Monday.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad launched Turkish-mediated negotiations last month but there has been no word on prospects for a face-to-face meeting given the gap between the sides' bedrock demands.

Both men are to attend a July 13 summit of a new union of European and Mediterranean countries in Paris and Olmert, who sent aides to resume talks in Turkey on Saturday, has offered to meet Assad on the sidelines, an Israeli political source said.

According to another Israeli source, French President Nicolas Sarkozy is trying to arrange a three-way meeting with Olmert and Assad during the Euro-Med conference but has not yet received final confirmation from Damascus.

The French embassy in Tel Aviv had no immediate comment.

Sarkozy has invited leaders attending the summit to stay on for France's July 14 national day parade. "The idea isn't necessarily to hold an hours-long conversation, just a face-to-face encounter that would, in itself, serve to take things forward," said one Israeli source. "This is one of the fresh ideas that is being raised in Turkey."

Olmert aides Yoram Turbowicz and Shalom Turjeman held indirect talks with Syrian counterparts on Sunday and were continuing contacts on Monday, the Israeli sources said.

There was no immediate confirmation of this from Syrian or Turkish officials.
Not optimistic

However, Olmert's delegation was not optimistic about the chances of Assad agreeing to meet the prime minister at this stage, an Israeli political source said.

"The assessment in Israel is that he (Assad) would first need something concrete in hand," the source said.

The last round of indirect Israeli-Syrian talks, in mid-May, took place at an Istanbul hotel, with Turkish diplomats shuttling between the delegations' rooms. Israeli political sources had no immediate word on the venue of the current talks.

A diplomatic breakthrough could shore up Olmert at home, where he faces a corruption scandal that threatens to force him from office. A key American witness in the case is due to be cross-questioned by Olmert's lawyers in open court on July 17.

Israeli officials said last week Israel would favour direct negotiations with Syria.

The last direct talks -- between then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq al-Shara -- stalled in 2000 in a dispute over how much of the Golan Heights, which Israel occupied in a 1967 war, should go back to Syria.

Damascus is demanding all the Golan.

Israel, echoing a long-running U.S. demand, in turn wants Syria to cut ties with Iran, Palestinian Hamas and Lebanese Hezbollah. Syrian officials have rejected this precondition.

Reuters
Last Mod: 16 Haziran 2008, 14:15
Add Comment