Olmert greeted by Erdogan
Photo: Amos Ben-Gershom, GPO
Direct talks soon?
Photo: Reuters
Olmert in Ankara, seeks direct talks with Syria
Prime minister meets with Turkish leadership in bid to advance negotiations with Damascus. Earlier in the day Syria's Assad also hinted direct talks may become reality in near future – but made clear he won't do business with lame duck Olmert

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met Turkish leaders Monday for talks expected to center on the Middle East and Turkish-mediated peace talks between Israel and Syria.


Olmert met President Abdullah Gul before holding talks with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan over



"What you don't do today in the Middle East – you may not be able to do tomorrow," Olmert said to Erdogan regarding the progression of the negotiations, adding that efforts must be focused on promoting direct talks with Syria.


The two leaders met in private for nearly an hour, and were then joined by their respective entourages for further discussion. After dinner the two resumed their tête-à-tête.


Earlier in the day Olmert met with Turkish President Abdullah Gul. "Israel cannot refrain from responding to the criminal fire on its citizens," Omert told Gul. Regarding negotiations with Syria he said, "Peace with Syria is attainable. I always thought Turkey would be a very suitable mediator."


Assad's Waiting Game

Scant hours before Olmert began his meetings, Syrian President Bashar Assad said he believed direct peace talks with Israel were a feasible possibility, adding that they would eventually take place in the future.


Speaking at a joint press conference with his visiting Croatian counterpart, Assad also says that indirect negotiations alone cannot achieve peace between the two enemies.


The Syrian president compared the peace process to the construction of a building, and said Syria and Israel are "now laying the foundations" for peace through the indirect talks mediated by Turkey.


He also addressed the newly elected US administration, and expressed his hopes that President-elect Barack Obama would not launch any new wars. Assad said Damascus looked forward to working with the new administration to secure peace in the Middle East.


As reported by Ynet, Assad is pursuing an internal Syrian initiative that would determine certain terms in

regards to the negotiations with Israel prior to Obama's inauguration on January 20th.


Assad is also aiming to ensure the direct talks with Israel are with the new government that will be elected on February 10th. However, to avoid stagnation and in the light of Olmert's determination that the process move forward while he is still in office, Assad appeared willing to release the above statement.


But while Olmert is willing to meet in person with Assad, the latter is reluctant. He too understands that Olmert's remaining time in office amounts to less than two months.


The Associated Press contributed to this report


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