The next round of talks between Israel
will be held in Istanbul in about two weeks at the presence of a senior American delegate, the London-based al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper reported Saturday, quoting a top European source.
According to the report, the American representative will take part in the talks as an observer.
An Israeli official confirmed the report to the paper, saying that the European source arrived in Israel on Friday in order to brief state officials on the results of Thursday's four-way summit
in Damascus, which was attended by the leaders of Syria, France, Turkey and Qatar.
According to the Israeli source, the European official raised the possibility that the next round of talks would be held on September 18. He added that vigorous efforts were underway to change the talks' format into direct negotiations around one table.
State officials denied the report on an American observer being sent to the talks. A source in Jerusalem said, "We are not aware of such a plan."
A senior source in Damascus refused to address the report directly, telling the newspaper that "Syria is not dealing with the arrival of an American observer to the indirect talks."
According to the source, "Syria does not believe that the United States, under the current regime, is interested in a peace process on the Syrian channel. The Syrians are looking to a future in which there will be a possibility to launch direct talks based on the principles we presented, and sponsored by the US, France, Turkey and any other interested elements."
The Israel-Syria Peace Society welcomed the report on Washington's willingness to take part in the talks. "The movement believes that an American and European participation in the next round of talks in Turkey will allow the two sides to make progress and approve the agreement of principles put on the negotiations table.
"The broadening international support for the talks significantly strengthens the chance to reach a peace agreement between Israel and Syria in the near future," the movement said in a statement released Saturday.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy was Syrian President Bashar Assad's guest in Damascus on Thursday, in a visit which officially ended years of severed relations following the assassination of Lebanese President Rafik Hariri.
Assad stated during the meeting that the fifth round of Turkish-mediated talks with Israel would be postponed due to the resignation of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's chief of staff, Yoram Turbowicz, who was the Israeli emissary to the talks.
The Prime Minister's Office is waiting for the opinion of its legal advisor and the attorney general as to whether Turbowicz can take part in the talks with Syria on a voluntary basis.
A senior state official said following Assad's announcement that "in spite of the report, talks are being held in order to set a date for the next meeting."
Roni Sofer contributed to this report