Israel postpones Turkish-brokered talks with Syria

September 20, 2008

DAMASCUS (AFP) -— A fifth round of Turkish-brokered peace talks between Syria and Israel this week has been postponed at Israel's request, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said.

""It has been postponed at the request of the Israeli side,"" Muallem told a press conference with visiting Spanish counterpart Miguel Angel Moratinos.
The next round of talks between the two neighbors -- which have technically been at war for 60 years -- was due to be held on Thursday.
""When Israel is ready to resume the talks, we will be too because we want to build a solid base that will allow the launch of direct negotiations whatever the outcome of the Kadima party election in Israel,"" Muallem added.
Turkey, which has been acting as mediator in the talks, confirmed that Thursday's planned meeting had been cancelled at Israel's request.
Israel said it failed to complete the formalities that would allow its chief negotiator, Yoram Turbowicz, to remain on the negotiating team after he resigned from his post as Olmert's general secretary, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's office said.
""The Israeli side has emphasized that it is ready to resume the talks as soon as this technical and legal process is completed,"" it said, adding that a new date for the fifth round had not yet been fixed.
A senior Israeli government official confirmed that ""there are logistical problems with the status of Turbowicz.""
But he said Israel hoped to resume the negotiations soon.
""Israel is committed to pursuing peace with Syria and we hope that there will be another round of talks in Turkey very shortly,"" the Israeli official said.
Israel and Syria launched indirect negotiations brokered by Turkey in May, eight years after talks were frozen over the fate of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
Syria has said that ultimately only Washington has the clout to sponsor direct talks, although it has been keen to win greater international support for the process.
""Syria has always called for a European role in the peace process equal to the U.S. one, as Europe is nearer to our region and has an interest in its security and stability,"" Muallem said.
""We discussed with Moratinos a scenario for... the direct negotiations in order to show that the international community is interested in sponsoring a just and comprehensive peace on all tracks.""
Moratinos said the European Union was keen to do what it could to help advance the process.
""One of the most important changes I can see in the Middle East is that the countries in the region itself are taking their own responsibilities,"" he said, hailing Turkey's role in brokering the indirect preparatory talks between the two sides.
Asked whether Madrid, which hosted the 1991 conference that launched the Middle East peace process, was ready to host a new conference to relaunch it, Moratinos said: ""Spain is always ready to welcome any peace conference.
""But let things go step by step now the different tracks move steadily and seriously and then the parties and the international community will decide if they want to have a comprehensive peace conference.""