Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem met Thursday in Damascus with assistant to the US special envoy to the Middle East Frederick Hoff, according to a report given by Western diplomatic sources to Lebanese newspaper As-Safir.
According to the report, the two discussed the peace process between Israel and Syria, which Washington is interested reinitiating, as well as the war in Afghanistan. One of the sources said Syria does not have high expectations from the talks, but that there is "optimism from the sincerity of the Obama administration's intentions."
The sources said Hoff's visit gives further indication of the US' desire to renew diplomatic relations with Syria. US special Mideast envoy George Mitchell is expected to visit Damascus next month.
Yedioth Ahronoth reported Friday that a European official has relayed messages to Israel according to which Syria was interested in having the US mediate its negotiations with Israel as part of Damascus' efforts to strengthen its ties with Washington. According to the report, Syria wants to launch secret talks that will lead to open negotiations under American mediation.
About two weeks ago Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hinted that the Syrian option was once again on the table, and reported of a turn in Syrian President Bashar Assad's approach.
According to Netanyahu, French President Nicolas Sarkozy informed him that Assad is now ready to abandon any preconditions for talks with Israel, meaning demands that the Golan Heights be guaranteed in advance have been dropped.
However, Syria's Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Makdad said there has been no change in the country's traditional demand for a complete withdrawal from the Golan Heights.
"During the indirect talks under Turkish mediation," Makdad said, speaking at an academic debate on the "occupied Golan", "Syria has stressed the need for a retreat to the lines of June 4, 1967 and an end to the Israeli occupation."
Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Shara said recently that renewed indirect peace negotiations between Israel and Syria would require the support of the US and Europe.
Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon said this week that Syria was responsible for the failure of peace negotiations between Jerusalem and Damascus.
Speaking Tuesday at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, Ayalon said that "Syria didn’t desire peace, and through these negotiations it fooled everyone in a bid to emerge from the global isolation.
"Looking back today, we can say that the Turkish mediation was a mistake, as it affected the relations between us. Therefore, there is a need to separate between relations between countries and relations with the entire region," he said.