Posted by Joshua on Friday, November 30th, 2007
Here is a good take on Russia's proposed role in mediating Golan
Syrian Track and Russian Mediator
Ma’ariv (p. 2) by Ben Caspit
A special envoy of President Putin has recently been delivering messages between Damascus and Jerusalem, in a dramatic Russian effort to revive the negotiations between Israel and Syria, reflecting growing Russian involvement in the peace process. The emissary is Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Sultanov, who is also President Putin’s special envoy to the Middle East.
Senior political sources last night told Ma’ariv that at least twice in the past few weeks Sultanov visited Damascus, where he spoke personally with Syrian President Bashar Assad, and that Sultanov also visited Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, where he delivered reports to senior officials, probably Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his aides.
Apparently Sultanov is conveying messages between Assad and senior Israeli officials, including Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Apparently Sultanov’s visits are being kept secret in order to avoid angering the Americans. It now emerges that Olmert’s sudden visit to Moscow in the dead of night a few weeks ago was also connected with this diplomatic demarche. Prime Minister and former foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov has also been in Syria and conveyed messages between Damascus and Jerusalem.
At the same time, it has been learned that the Americans have probably agreed to the Russian demand and will allow a conference to be held as a continuation of the Annapolis conference, three months from now in Moscow. At this conference the international monitoring apparatus is intended to receive a report on the progress of the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, but the Russians also hope to open the Israeli-Syrian track officially at that event.
In the contacts with Damascus, Israel has been making discreet efforts to learn Syria’s position on whether it may agree to grant Israel a long-term lease over the Golan Heights. Israel also asked whether Assad is prepared, in a peace treaty with Israel, to take action against terrorism and abandon the axis that he established with Teheran.
In recent private conversations between Israel and Russia, the Russians have been saying, in the name of President Putin, that only Russia is capable of mediating between Israel and Syria. They say that President Assad trusts the Russian government, and especially President Putin. “We have real influence in Damascus and we can take steps to revive the negotiations with the Syrians under special conditions of trust,” one of the Russian diplomats said. Well-informed Israeli officials say there is truth to the Russian argument. “The Syrians suspect the Americans just as much as the Iranians do, and claim that all that interests Washington is bringing down the regime. With Moscow, in contrast, the dialogue is more transparent and intimate, and therefore reaches a business-like level,” one of the Israeli sources said.
Russia’s willingness to help on the Syrian track reflects Russian’s growing involvement in the Middle East in general. Recently there have been reports of closer relations between Russia and Saudi Arabia, which may include consultation and cooperation which did not exist in the past. It has also emerged that the Russians, who promised to suspend the supply of nuclear fuel rods to Iran for the nuclear reactor in Bushehr, have told their Israeli counterparts that they intend to supply these rods in the near future and will not violate their contract with Iran. The Russians say that the threat of an Iranian nuclear bomb lies not in the reactor at Bushehr, but in the facilities for enrichment of uranium by means of centrifuges. Nevertheless the Russian track is only one of Israel’s channels of contact with Damascus. Another important avenue to which President Shimon Peres referred is the Turkish track.
In the meantime it has emerged that there are substantive disagreements between Israel and the US administration over the timetable for the Iranian nuclear bomb. Israeli intelligence believes that Iran will pass the point of no return next year or at the beginning of 2009, but the Americans think that Iran is still a long way from achieving a military nuclear capability, and that the point of no return will not be before 2012, at the end of the first term of the next president, or that of his successor.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov , who met Defense Minister Ehud Barak in Washington, had a long talk with him on the Iranian nuclear issue.
Moscow May Host Middle East Follow-Up
(By Robin Wright and Michael Abramowitz, The Washington Post)
Russia and the United States are tentatively planning a second Middle East peace conference, in Moscow in early 2008, with major parties hoping to begin a comprehensive peace effort that would include direct talks between Israel and Syria, according to U.S., Russian, Arab and European officials.