DAMASCUS (Reuters) – Syria and Israel have postponed a round of indirect peace talks which were meant to address specific proposals on how to reach a breakthrough, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on Thursday.
“There was supposed to be a fifth round, meant to be crucial, I think yesterday. The resignation of the chief Israeli negotiator led to the postponement of this round, which would have defined the course of these negotiations,” he said.
The long-time foes have held four rounds of indirect talks which centre on the fate of the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau which Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war. Damascus demands the return of all the Golan.
Israel, in turn, wants Syria to scale back ties with the Jewish state’s main foes — Iran, Palestinian Hamas and Lebanese Hezbollah. Syria has so far refused to do so.
Assad said that Israel and Syria have separately put forward ideas for a declaration of principles under which they would move to direct talks, but progress was hampered by internal politics in Israel where Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is stepping down because of corruption charges, which he denies.
Assad did not say when the next round of the Turkish-mediated talks is expected.
“We are now waiting for the Israeli elections to define the future of this stage. We want support of all countries,” he said at the start of a summit in Damascus to discuss efforts for a peace agreement between Syria and Israel.
The talks, which were also focused on efforts to support stability in neighboring Lebanon, were also attended by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani.
TERMS FOR PEACE
Assad said the Syrian proposals focused on defining the extent of Syrian territory under Israeli occupation as a basis for negotiating an Israeli withdrawal under a peace deal.
The last direct talks between the two countries stalled in 2000 in a dispute over how much of the Golan should go back to Syria.
Syria favors moving to direct talks only after a new U.S. administration comes to office. Assad said an American role was necessary but Turkey will continue to be a main mediator.
Olmert had wanted to hold direct talks swiftly, although he is committed to resigning after his Kadima party holds a leadership election on September 17.
Israeli negotiator Yoram Turbowicz announced his resignation as Olmert’s chief of staff in July, shortly after the prime minister said he would leave office following a September 17 vote in his Kadima party to replace him over a corruption scandal.
Turbowicz agreed, however, to continue to represent Israel at the indirect talks with Syria in a voluntary capacity. But Israel’s attorney-general has yet to authorize his participation.
Syria and Israel announced their indirect talks earlier this year, months after Israeli warplanes raided a target in eastern Syria that the United States said was a nuclear reactor under construction.