Posted by Joshua on Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008
Less conclusive, however, is any firm evidence that Syria was attempting to develop nuclear weapons, according to the U.S. official. "People will probably spin this information in whatever direction they want," the official said.
By contrast, the BBC and Bloomberg are running stories explaining that Israel is "Willing to Return the Golan Heights." The point of this story is not that real peace talks are going on between Israel and Syria, but that Olmert has evidently told Turkey's Erdogan that in a future agreement, Israel would be willing to relinquish the entire Golan. Whether that is to a "Peace Park, we do not know. We also do not know what prerequisites went with the story. Israel has been adamant about Syria cutting relations with Iran, Hizbullah, and Hamas as a precondition for such talks.
Syria seems to be making this public at this time because it does not want secret talks and insists that what contacts take place between Israel and Syria be official and open. Syria wants Israel to break the US backed isolation policy toward Syria as a sign of good faith.
One analyst in Washington does not believe this is more than posturing by both sides. He writes:
No durable peace deal between the Israelis and the Syrians is possible without US endorsement. As much as I would like to believe this story, it's a nonstarter. To say the least, the Turks cannot finance the deal, only the US can. The Israelis will ask for a security package from Washington worth more than $20 billion.
Here are the articles:
By Massoud A. Derhally
April 23 (Bloomberg) — Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told the Syrian government that Israel's premier, Ehud Olmert, has agreed to return all of the Golan Heights to Syria in exchange for peace, Syria's state-controlled Cham Press said.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad confirmed this week that his country exchanged messages with Israel via third parties to explore the possibility of resuming peace talks. Cham Press, which cited unidentified diplomatic officials for the report on Erdogan, didn't provide details.
Erdogan called the Syrian president yesterday and relayed the same message from Israel, Al-Watan reported from Damascus. The daily didn't provide additional information.
Olmert told Israel's Yediot Ahronot newspaper last week that the two countries clarified what they expect from a potential peace accord. Each side now understands what the other wants, Olmert said. Syria broke off negotiations on a peace treaty with Israel in 2000 after the two sides were unable to resolve their dispute over the Golan Heights, which Israel has occupied since 1967.
Olmert's spokesman, Mark Regev, said today there was “nothing new to say,'' when asked about peace talks with Syria. “I can only refer you to what the prime minister said in interviews published only a few days ago in Israeli newspapers. We know what the Syrians expect from us and the Syrians know what we expect from them.''
“There are efforts exerted in this direction,'' Assad said during a meeting with officials from his ruling Baath Party, according to the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency.
Erdogan will be visiting Syria April 26, his spokesman, Akif Beki, said in a telephone interview today. He declined to provide details about the visit.
“Syria rejects secret talks or contacts with Israel,'' SANA cited Assad as saying. “Anything Syria does in this regard will be announced to the public.''
Negotiations must be serious and “in compliance with United Nations resolutions,'' Assad added. “Israel knows well what is accepted and not accepted by Syria.''
Tensions between the two countries have grown since Israeli forces fought a 34-day conflict in Lebanon in 2006 with the Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah that is backed by Syria and Iran.
Syria said Israeli warplanes crossed its northern border on Sept. 6 and were repelled by its air defenses after dropping ammunition on Syrian territory. Israeli officials have declined to comment on the incident.
On Thursday, Mr Olmert told Israel's Channel 10 television that he was interested in peace with Syria, and that both sides knew what the other wanted.
"Very clearly we want peace with the Syrians and we are taking all manner of actions to this end," he said. "President Bashar al-Assad knows precisely what our expectations are and we know his. I won't say more."
Mr Erdogan is due to visit the Syrian capital, Damascus, this weekend
The former US President, Jimmy Carter, who held talks with the Syrian leader recently has said he believes "about 85%" of the differences between Israel and Syria have already been resolved, including borders, water rights, the establishment of a security zone and on the presence of international forces.
"[Mr Assad said] the only major difference in starting good-faith talks was that Israel insisted that there will be no public acknowledgment that the talks were going on when Syria insisted that the talks would not be a secret," Mr Carter said earlier this week.
Mr Carter said it was now "just a matter of reconvening the talks and concluding an agreement" between the neighbouring countries.
The Syrian reports on Wednesday have sparked outrage in the Israeli parliament, however, where several MPs said they would seek to accelerate the passage of a bill requiring any withdrawal from the Golan to be dependent on a referendum.
"Olmert's readiness to withdraw from the Golan represents an unprecedented political and national abandon," Yuval Steinitz of Likud told the Haaretz newspaper.
Correspondents say returning the Golan to Syria is not a popular concept in Israel, and the details of a possible Israeli withdrawal have bedevilled past negotiations between the two countries.