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PM: Always better to talk than shoot
Photo: Ofer Amram
PM's office believes Syrian side 'earnest'
Olmert aides conducting talks with Syria return from Turkey with reserved optimism. 'We believe Syria is earnest about negotiations. Whether it leads to peace remains to be seen,' they say

Two of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's aides, Chief of Staff Dr. Yoram Turbowicz and State Counselor Shalom Turjeman returned to Israel on Wednesday after two days of intensive talks in Istanbul, Turkey. Immediately upon arrival they rushed to inform the prime minister of the talks' results.

 

After being updated, Olmert headed to the Kibbutz College of Education, where he defended the renewal of the peace talks with Syria. "It is always better to talk than to shoot and I am happy both sides here have decided to talk," he said during his speech.

 

The Prime Minister's Office expressed a reserved optimism as to the future of the negotiations. "We believe Turkey is earnest, and they believe the Syrians are earnest. Whether or not the talks achieve peace remains to be seen," the office stated.

 

The talks between Israel and Syria received the American green light from US President George W. Bush during his most recent visit to Israel. The subject had also come up during US Vice President Dick Cheney's visit. Israeli officials believe US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice remains opposed to the process, seeing as Syria belongs to the 'axis of evil'.

 

The Prime Minister's Office commended the political achievement, but certain officials in Jerusalem have expressed concern for the timing. Security officials warned that the talks serve Syrian interests and are therefore dangerous.

 

Other officials in Jerusalem warned of over-enthusiastic responses to the talks. "It's important, but one shouldn't exaggerate the significance of the achievement. These are only indirect negotiations, which may result in Syria leaving the 'axis of evil'. These are not peace talks.

 

"The disclosure of the process on the same day in which Hizbullah gained an achievement in Lebanon is a very problematic thing. We could find ourselves, say, in trouble with the Palestinians because the process with Syria could pull the rug out from under that achievement," one official said.

 

During the past few weeks, Syria has demanded that the talks receive American sponsorship in public, and a preliminary concession of the Golan. Israel demanded straightforward negotiations and a refrain from preliminary conditions and covert talks. Through Turkish mediation a middle ground was found, according to which indirect talks would be handled by Turkey, while the US received advanced notification, and no preliminary conditions would be set, like the ceding of Israel from the Golan.

 

Golan Heights discussed

According to reports made known to Ynet, the talks have already included preliminary debates about the main issues at the heart of negotiations, such as the fate of the Golan, control of water sources, and security arrangements between the two countries. These issues stand to be brought up in two weeks, to be discussed in full.

 

Officials on both sides have announced that in the meantime talks will be indirect, with Turkey as mediator, but they do not rule out direct negotiations in the future.

 

The Israeli representatives have predicted that a long and difficult process lies ahead. "We have no assumptions as to how or when (the process) will end. The disputes are not simple, and the mutual demands are not either. All we can say is that in Istanbul we have a chance to renew the peace process with Syria, which has been frozen for eight years," one official said.

 

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