Syrian official: Talks with Israel making progess

Buthaina Shaaban said that "We are not concerned with whether Olmert resigns or not. We are not a party to internal Israeli issues."

Syrian official: Talks with Israel making progess
Indirect peace talks between Syria and Israel have made progress but not enough to move to face-to-face talks as favoured by the Jewish state, a senior Syrian official said on Wednesday.

"If the talks had not progressed then they would have been stopped," said Buthaina Shaaban, who was recently promoted from expatriates minister to adviser to President Bashar al-Assad.

Shaaban would not be drawn on what was discussed in four rounds of talks held in Turkey since May. She said the talks will continue despite the impending resignation of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

"We are not concerned with whether Olmert resigns or not. We are not a party to internal Israeli issues," Shaaban told reporters.

Diplomats in the Syrian capital said the Turkish-mediated talks have mostly covered old ground tackled in previous negotiations between Syria and Israel in the 1990s.

Olmert, who has recently intensified his calls on Syria to resume direct talks, announced last week that he was resigning over a corruption scandal once his Kadima party elects a new leader next month.

Shaaban said there would be no direct talks until the Damascus government was certain Israel would return all of the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau which Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war.

"The talks are still preliminary and indirect. When we achieve the progress we want then the political leadership might take a decision to move to direct talks. The guidelines are our land and rights," she said.

Syria came close to securing an Israeli pullout from the Golan during U.S.-supervised talks from 1991 to 2000.

The late Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, father of the current president, refused to sign a deal he did not regard as liberating the whole territory.

Israel, in turn, wants Syria to cut ties with the Jewish state's main foes -- the Palestinian Hamas and the Lebanese Hezbollah movement as a pre-requisite for a deal. Syria has so far refused to do so.

Shaaban however cautioned against expecting an agreement any time soon.

"This is an issue that is not solved overnight. We negotiated for 10 years and did not achieve anything," she said.

Assad met Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan at a Turkish beach resort on Tuesday, days after he met Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and members of the clerical establishment.

A fourth round of talks between Israel and Syria took place last week. The fifth round is expected later this month.

Reuters
Last Mod: 07 Ağustos 2008, 11:18
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