ANKARA, Turkey (AP) – Turkey’s foreign minister said Monday that a lot remains to be achieved before any peace agreement between Israel and Syria, but that his country will continue to act as a go-between to encourage them to restart direct negotiations.
Turkey, which has close ties to both Israel and Syria, revealed recently that it is trying to help restart low-level talks between the two countries as a prelude to bringing their leaders together for peace negotiations.
Ali Babacan said an agreement between the longtime enemies would require “strong political determination” from both sides.
“We are still at the very beginning of the process,” Babacan told reporters during a news conference with New Zealand’s foreign minister. His comments were in response to a question on Turkey’s mediation efforts.
The last round of direct peace talks between the two countries broke down in 2000 over the details of Israel’s proposed withdrawal from the Golan Heights, the strategic plateau it seized from Syria in the 1967 Mideast War.
Babacan said Turkey would pass messages between the sides until they are ready to meet.
“Talks will continue to take place through Turkey for a while,” the foreign minister said. “When the issue is a little more mature, then I hope that the sides will meet each other.” “It is a very promising development,” Babacan said of Turkey’s mediation efforts. “There has been diplomatic traffic for the past year, which has intensified in the past few months.”
Turkey has not commented on media reports saying Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivered a message from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to Syria indicating that Israel was willing to give up the Golan Heights in return for a peace treaty. Erdogan met with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus on Saturday.
Israel has refused to comment on the reports. But Olmert said earlier this month that he sent messages to Damascus on peace prospects though he would not disclose the contents.
Babacan said the government would not discuss details of the mediation.