Friday, April 26, 2019 -
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Israel-Syria talks ‘constructive’

Bashar AssadJERUSALEM — Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s two top diplomatic advisers finished two days of indirect talks with Syria in Turkey on Monday, and headed for Paris, fueling speculation that they were trying to arrange a meeting between Olmert and Syrian President Bashar Assad at a regional conference in Paris next month.

Sources in the Prime Minister’s office said that Olmert’s chief of staff Yoram Turbowicz and his chief foreign policy adviser Shalom Turgeman wound up a second round of talks in Ankara and were impressed “by their positive atmosphere, and the constructive nature of the discussions.”

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, meanwhile, confirmed Tuesday that Assad has accepted an invitation to a regional conference in France on July 13, and will be seated at a table with Olmert.

Olmert aides, however, called it “speculation” that the two leaders would take advantage of their presence in Paris to meet for a summit.

Ehud OlmertOne senior official said Israel “was always happy to meet with Arab leaders, but the idea that there is going to be a summit has in no way been determined or finalized.”

While Syria has made clear that it wants to see a full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights to the June 4, 1967 lines, Israel wants to see Syria end its support for Hamas and Hezbollah and significantly reduce its ties with Iran.

This was the first round of talks since Israel, Syria and Turkey announced in dramatic fashion on May 21 that indirect talks were taking place.

The Syrian team includes Riad Daoudi, a legal expert in the Syrian Foreign Ministry, and Sami Taqi, head of a think tank in Damascus considered close to the government.

While officially Turgeman and Turbowicz went to Paris to prepare for the visit next week of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, their trip — coming so closely on the heels of the round of talks in Turkey — has given rise to speculation that they were pressing Sarkozy to try and arrange an Olmert-Assad meeting in Paris on the sidelines of a meeting of potential members of a new union of Mediterranean EU states, to be held on July 13 in Paris.

The meeting, were it to materialize in Paris, would take place some three days before American financier Morris Talansky is expected back in Israel for a cross-examination in the Olmert corruption investigation.

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