French President Nicolas Sarkozy wound up a two-day visit to Syria Thursday with a four-way summit including Turkey and Qatar aimed at boosting the roles of France and the European Union in Middle East diplomacy.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on Thursday that participants of the peace talks between Israel and Syria were committed to laying the groundwork for direct negotiations between the two foes. However, the future of these talks remains uncertain due to the approaching Israeli general elections later this month.
“The summit seeks to draft a declaration of principles that would form a basis for direct peace talks between Syria and Israel," Assad said during a four-way summit in the Syrian capital of Damascus.
Thursday’s meeting gathered French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Qatari emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani. “This was the most important moment during Sarkozy’s visit to Syria”, says FRANCE 24’s International Affairs Editor Jean Bernard Cadier.
“It’s an unprecedented summit, says Cadier. “Turkey and Qatar’s participation in the Mideast peace talks and the issues discussed makes it different from the past,” he added.
The four leaders attending the summit also discussed other regional conflicts including the crisis in Lebanon, Iran’s nuclear programme and the situation in Iraq.
Israel and Syria launched indirect negotiations, brokered by Turkey in May 2008. Four rounds of negotiations have already been held but the fifth was cancelled after the resignation of the Israeli negotiator Yoram Turbowitz.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Anatolian news agency that the talks would resume on September 18 and 19.
Israeli elections put future of negotiations on hold
For Mideast observers, the fifth round of peace talks is crucial. It will determine the future of direct talks between the two sides. The Syrians and the Israelis reiterated their demands during the past rounds of indirect talks. “Israel put forward its demands and Syria raised the question regarding the withdrawal (from the Golan Heights),” Assad said without further details regarding the Israeli position on the Golan issue.
The key sticking point in the talks is the Golan, the strategic plateau captured by Israel in the 1967 war with Arab states and annexed in 1981 in a move not recognized by the international community.
The Syrian leader, who initiated the four-way summit, confirmed that Damascus would “respond favourably” to Israeli demands as soon as they are put forward to Turkish mediators and “would immediately enter direct negotiations.” Assad, however, said the future of this peace process would be put on hold until Israel has a new prime minister.
“We’re waiting for the Israeli elections to determine the future of these negotiations,” Assad said during the summit. “We want to be sure that the next Israeli prime minister will continue in the same direction as Ehud Olmert over the complete withdrawal from the Syrian territory.”
Assad also stressed on the Washington’s role in the Middle East peace process and thanked France for its contribution in the Israeli-Syrian peace talks.
Sarkozy, who wrapped up a landmark visit to Syria on Thursday, said Paris was set to give any help required for direct peace negotiations.
"I told Assad that if the Israelis accept the principles and the direct negotiations begin, France is ready to help diplomatically, politically, economically and militarily," he told the summit.
Date created : 2008-09-04