Syria hopes for direct talks with IsraelSeptember 4th, 2008 - 5:40 pm ICT by IANS
Damascus, Sep 4 (DPA) Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, hosting a summit of French, Qatari and Turkish leaders, said Thursday he hoped for direct negotiations with Israel.At the same time, he criticized Israel for not taking part in indirect talks which had been planned for last week in Turkey, which has been mediating between the two sides.
Israel had failed to take part “just because a government official involved in the talks had declared his intention to resign,” Assad said, in a reference to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Assad said it was important that whoever took over as Israeli prime minister should keep to Olmert’s promise to return Israeli-occupied territories to Syria.
Assad said he would welcome France acting as patron to direct peace talks between Syria and Israel, as “France, in contrast to the United States, understands the situation in the region.”
Assad also said Syria would take up diplomatic relations with Lebanon. The announcement, broadcast live on Arabic television, was made after Sarkozy urged Assad to break the diplomatic silence.
Sarkozy welcomed the indirect talks between Syria and Israel, saying these were better than no talks at all.
The summit in Damascus was attended by Assad, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Qatar brokered a deal last May to resolve Lebanon’s political crisis, while Turkey has been mediating since May in indirect peace talks between Syria and Israel.
After their foursome talks, Sarkozy welcomed the indirect talks between Syria and Israel as better than no talks at all.
He also said he was seeking Syria’s support in opposing Iran’s controversial nuclear programme. While acknowledging Iran’s right to have nuclear power, Sarkozy stressed that Iranian nuclear weapons would be a threat to the region and the whole world.
Assad for his part expressed major concern over the Georgia-Russia conflict, which “could be worse than the 20th century Cold War.”
Qatari Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani tackled the conflicting issue between the United Arab of Emirates and Iran over three islands, confirming that the Gulf countries do not want a conflict with Iran.
Sarkozy and Assad had already told reporters late Wednesday they held “frank and constructive” talks after Sarkozy’s arrival. “We discussed many things but concentrated on peace in the Middle East,” Assad said.
“Our main topic was the peace process and the indirect peace negotiations between Syria and Israel, where the talks stand now and their future.”
The visit, the first by a French head of state in four years, was aimed at normalizing bilateral relations frozen after the assassination of Lebanon’s former premier Rafik Hariri in February 2005.
Damascus was accused of being behind the car bombing, a claim it has denied.