Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa said in an interview with Al-Jazeera television that the next step in negotiations with Israel could be face-to-face meetings.
"The negotiations currently taking place between Syria and Israel are exploratory negotiations, meant to prepare the sides for the possibility of moving on to direct talks," he said. He then qualified this statement by saying that the talks could proceed indirectly as well.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al Mualem said recently that Israel and Syria are preparing for another round of talks through Turkish mediation next month. He described the negotiations that have taken place so far as "successful."
A week ago Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said, "Israel is not far from direct negotiations with Syria." In an interview with French newspaper Le Figaro Olmert said the direct talks would begin once the two countries agree on a list of issues up for discussion.
"We are not far from this," he said. "If both sides are serious, we will sit down at the table and talk."
Olmert and Syrian President Bashar Assad are scheduled to attend a Middle East conference in Paris on July 13. French President Nicolas Sarkozy's chief of staff said in a radio interview that Olmert had suggested that the two leaders conduct "direct contact" between them during the conference.
Israel has expressed its consent to attending the conference, but the Syrian president has yet to respond to the invitation. Olmert also remarked that a good relationship between Israel and Syria could positively affect Middle East dynamics.
"If an Israeli Embassy is established in Damascus, things will be different," he said. "It will also change the situation in Lebanon. If we can conduct negotiations with Syria, then why not with Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora?"