Syria says any indirect peace talks with Israel must be mediated by Turkey

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Syria wants Turkey to mediate talks with Israel

DAMASCUS, Syria — Syria wants Turkey to mediate any new indirect peace talks with Israel, and other efforts would be subordinate to Ankara’s role, the Syrian foreign minister said Sunday.

The comments by Walid al-Moallem come amid efforts by the Obama administration to pressure Damascus to resume long-stalled peace talks with Israel as part of Washington’s broader push for a comprehensive deal between Arab countries and the Jewish state.

Ankara mediated several rounds of indirect negotiations between Israel and Syria in 2008 but the talks made no significant headway and were suspended following the Israeli military offensive in Gaza the following year.

Speaking to reporters Sunday in the Syrian port city of Lattakia, Al-Moallem said any new indirect negotiations with Israel should be mediated by Turkey and must resume where they left off.

“The Turkish role has proved to be an honest one, and it is only natural that we would want it to continue,” al-Moallem said. “This is why indirect talks should take place through a Turkish mediator.”

He also indicated that any other efforts would complement, but ultimately be subordinate, to the Turkish role.

There was no immediate comment from Turkey. Ankara has said in the past that it is ready to resume mediation efforts but that Israel does not consider Turkey to be an independent mediator.

A spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Andy David, said the Jewish state welcomes “any attempt by anyone that will help advance peace in the region.”

Once close allies, ties between Israel and Turkey worsened in the wake of the Gaza war and have practically broken down since Israel’s deadly commando raid in May on a Turkish-led flotilla trying to breach the blockade in Gaza.

Syria has demanded the full withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Golan Heights, which Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war, as a condition for peace. Israel’s current government rejects preconditions, and Syrian President Bashar Assad has repeatedly said that there is currently no Israeli partner willing to achieve peace.

On Saturday, Assad offered dim hopes for any success in recently renewed Israeli-Palestinian talks, saying the White House is only using the negotiations to score political points in the United States.

Assad made the comments during a visit in Tehran. Both Assad and his Iranian counterpart, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, pledged to support “resistance” in the region, an apparent reference to Palestinian militants and others opposing Israel.

Iran and Syria are both key sponsors of the Shiite militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Palestinian faction Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip and is not part of the peace talks.

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