Syrian President Bashar Assad
announced Thursday morning that the fifth round of indirect talks between Israel and Syria, which was scheduled to begin this coming Sunday, has been postponed due to the resignation of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's top
diplomatic aide Yoram Turbowicz.
Assad's statement confirmed an the Al-Arabiya TV report, which quoted the Syrian President as telling his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy that the talks have been frozen due to "the domestic situation in Israel" and the "resignation of the Israeli emissary".
The Prime Minister's Office has confirmed that the fifth round of talks has been postponed following Turbowicz's resignation and is now awaiting legal authorization for Turbowicz's continued involvement in the negotiations.
Assad made the announcement at a four-way summit in Damascus with Sarkozy, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani.
Assad said Damascus had relayed several offers for a peace agreement to Jerusalem, and is now awaiting its reply before going ahead with formal peace talks.
The Syrian leader added that his country is also waiting for some clarifications from the international community, which will assure Syria that any new government formed in Israel will be committed to the peace process, including Olmert's consent to cede the Golan Heights.
Sarkozy for his part warned that Iran was taking a risk by moving forward with its nuclear program, adding that an Israeli attack on the Islamic Republic would be "catastrophic".
"Iran is taking a great risk when it continues to arm itself with nuclear arms – of this we are certain – because we may wake up one day and find out that Israel, regardless of who its leader will be, launched an attack," he said.
"The question at hand is not whether such a strike would be legitimate or wise, but rather what we would do in such a scenario. It would be a catastrophe and must be prevented."
During his visit to Damascus, Sarkozy urged Israel and Syria to hold direct talks, adding that France would be willing to sponsor direct negotiations "when it is time to do so" and would help in any way it could.
"It is very important that the time for Syria and Israel to talk directly comes soon, to build the peace that everyone needs," Sarkozy told a joint press conference with Assad.
A French source said Sarkozy was expected to hand Assad a letter drafted by IDF soldier Gilad Shalit's father with the hope that it will be relayed to his captors in Gaza.
Sarkozy flew into Damascus Wednesday and went straight to the presidential palace for talks with Assad ahead of Thursday's four-way summit, during which the leaders are set to discuss the Iranian nuclear program, the Israel-Syria peace negotiations and the relations between the Middle East and Europe.
The French president is the first Western head of state to visit Syria since the murder of Lebanese ex-premier Rafiq Hariri in a 2005 bombing in Beirut that was widely blamed on Damascus.
Syria has hailed the French president's visit as an acknowledgement of the central role Damascus plays in the Middle East peace process.
"Today there is a new era between Syria and France based on France's new policy, a realistic, pragmatic policy that is aimed at achieving peace and that calls for dialogue," Assad told French television on Tuesday.
Sarkozy's predecessor Jacques Chirac broke off all high-level contact with Syria over the assassination of Hariri, who was a personal friend.
It was only six weeks ago that Assad returned to the international fold with a visit to Paris for talks with the new French president.
"As I told President Bashar al-Assad when he came to Paris on July 12, the path of peace in this region passes through our countries," Sarkozy told Syria's Al-Watan daily ahead of Wednesday's visit.
AFP contributed to the report