The Syrian president Bashar Assad says he is waiting for Israel's response before holding face-to-face negotiations
Syria outlines peace proposals
DAMASCUS // The Syrian president, Bashar Assad, said today that his country has given Turkish mediators an outline of general proposals for peace with Israel and is awaiting Israel's response before holding any face-to-face negotiations. Mr Assad said the document was intended to serve as the basis for direct talks and that he was waiting for a similar document laying out Israel's starting position.
So far, negotiations have been held indirectly through Turkish mediation. The Syrian president also cautioned that the future of negotiations rested on who becomes prime minister in Israel and whether the new leader will be committed to pursuing peace with Syria. The Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert the target of several corruption investigations, has announced he will step down after his party chooses a new leader this month. That has left peace prospects with both Syria and the Palestinians uncertain.
Mr Olmert's office refused to comment on the Syrian announcement. Any direct talks would also have to wait until a new American administration is in place, Mr Assad said, acknowledging the importance of strong US backing for such an effort. Mr Assad spoke today at the opening of a summit in Damascus with the leaders of France, Turkey and Qatar to discuss Middle East stability and peace. He did not disclose details of the Syrian proposals, and few details have emerged from four rounds of indirect talks with Israel over the past year.
"We are now discussing a document of principles, which talks about general principles of the peace process which will be the basis for direct negotiations," Mr Assad said. He said Syria outlined six points on the issue of the "withdrawal line," a reference to the extent of an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights and a major sticking point over which direct negotiations collapsed in 2000. Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 war. Mr Assad said the Syrian points were given to the Turkish negotiators "as a deposit". When Israel gives its own proposals to the Turkish side, then the two sides could move to direct negotiations "after a new American administration convinced of the peace process is in place", he said.
The discussions in Syria's capital followed a one-on-one meeting between the French president Nicolas Sarkozy and Mr Assad yesterday that also focused on prospects for direct Israeli-Syrian peace talks. Today, Mr Sarkozy also warned Iran that it was taking a dangerous gamble in seeking to develop nuclear weapons because one day its arch-foe Israel could strike. Western powers accuse Iran of seeking the atom bomb under the cover of a civilian nuclear programme but Tehran insists it only wants to master atomic technology to generate electricity. The United States and Israel have not ruled out military action if the dispute cannot be settled through diplomacy. "Iran is taking a major risk in continuing the process to obtain a military nuclear capacity," Mr Sarkozy said. "One day, whatever the Israeli government, we could find one morning that Israel has struck," he added. "The question is not whether it would be legitimate, whether it would be intelligent. What will we do at that moment? It would be a catastrophe. We must avoid that catastrophe," * AP/Reuters