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Focus on Israeli-Syrian talks as Assad visits Paris

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2009-11-13

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is meeting with his Syrian counterpart, Bashar al-Assad, in Paris Friday amid Syrian calls for France to play a bigger role in the Mideast peace efforts.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Paris on Friday in an attempt to step up French diplomatic efforts to revive the stalled Mideast peace process.

Assad arrived at the presidential Elysee Palace in Paris for talks with his French counterpart amid rising hopes that the French could persuade arch foes Israel and Syria to resume talks.

“It’s a very important meeting for Nicolas Sarkozy in particular who, ever since he arrived in the Elysee Palace, has been very keen to play a role in the search for peace in the Middle East,” said FRANCE 24’s Melissa Bell, reporting from the Elysee Palace.

Assad’s visit comes days after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Sarkozy in Paris. According to the pan-Arab satellite TV station al Arabiya, Netanyahu expressed interest in meeting with Assad without preconditions.

With the Israeli-Palestinian talks hitting a new low in recent months, attention has focused on a possible revival of the Syrian track, as it is known in diplomatic circles.

Despite attempts to broker a deal between arch foes Israel and Syria, the Syrian peace track has repeatedly faltered over demands by Damascus for a full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau Israel captured in the six-day 1967 war.

But hopes for a breakthrough in one of the most intractable areas of Mideast peace negotiations are slim.

“It’s been nearly four decades that Israel has been declaring that it’s ready to embark immediately on peace negotiations,” said Ardavan Amir Aslani, an international lawyer and author of the book, “Iran, Persia’s back,” in an interview with FRANCE 24. “But once you’ve said that, what has changed? The Golan Heights are still occupied by the Israelis and the Palestinian issue is not solved.”

‘Climate of trust’ between France and Syria

Franco-Syrian relations have been warming since Assad paid a landmark visit to Paris last year for Bastille Day celebrations which was followed by a visit from Sarkozy to Syria two months later.

Over the past year, Damascus has been looking to Paris to help end its isolation in the international community. “Syria obviously is trying to enhance its own image abroad,” said Aslani. “It’s also trying to break the ice in its diplomatic isolation.”

In an interview with the leading French daily Le Figaro on Friday, Assad hailed the “climate of trust” between France and Syria. “We can now elaborate a clearer vision for the future," said Assad.

But the Syrian president also bemoaned US President Barack Obama’s failure to move ahead with the Mideast peace negotiations.

"What President Obama said about peace was a good thing,” Assad told Le Figaro. “We agree with him on the principles, but... what is the plan of action? The (peace process) sponsor must come up with a plan of action," he added.

Assad also stressed that Syria would like to review a partnership agreement with the European Union, which was drawn up in 2004 but never signed due to concerns over Syria’s human rights record.

"The Europeans have turned completely towards the United States, to Syria's detriment. A partner must be a friend and we haven't noticed that from Europe these last years," he said.

French diplomatic efforts come as Turkish mediation fails

French diplomatic efforts to jumpstart the Syrian track come after Turkish efforts to mediate talks between Israel and Syria faltered over the past few months.

Turkish-Israeli relations have been strained following Israel’s offensive in Gaza last year, when Ankara broke off its mediation efforts.

But during a visit to Paris last week, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said his country was ready to resume his role as mediator of three-way telephone conversations between Israeli and Syrian leaders at any time.


Date created : 2009-11-13


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