Syrian President in Turkey for Talks on Israel

By: Selcan Hacaoglu AP Email
By: Selcan Hacaoglu AP Email

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) - Turkey encouraged Syria on Wednesday to think of ways to revive the stalled peace talks with Israel, but the Syrian president said Israel does not appear to be a partner in the process.

Syrian President Bashar Assad sat down with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul to consider how to restart the talks.

"Israel has again showed that it does not want peace," Assad said after the iftar, the dinner that breaks the daily fast during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. "Israel has dynamited all peace negotiations so far, it has massacred people in Lebanon, it has attacked Gaza."

He said Israel's presence at the peace table is only "virtual," echoing remarks Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem made through an interpreter earlier.

"On the peace issue, we don't think Israel is present as a partner," al-Moallem said. He accused Israel of maintaining construction of Israeli settlements and continuing its aggression against Gaza.

Turkey, which mediated indirect Syrian-Israeli talks last year, has offered to help restart the peace negotiations after they broke off in March when a more hardline Israeli government came to power.

Turkey has also been trying to help defuse a spat between Syria and Iraq triggered by Iraqi allegations that Syria has been used as a launching pad for violence in Baghdad.

Security talks held Tuesday by Iraqi and Syrian diplomats in Ankara ended with no agreement, after Syria refused to extradite suspects accused of deadly Baghdad bombings, Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said.

The Iraqi and Syrian foreign ministers plan to meet Thursday in Istanbul. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa will also attend.

Iraq is demanding Syria hand over two members of Saddam Hussein's now-outlawed Baath Party who are blamed by Iraq for the Aug. 19 truck bombings that killed more than 100 people in Baghdad. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has called on the U.N. Security Council to investigate the attacks.

Syria rejected Iraq's request, saying it had failed to provide evidence implicating the two suspects.

Turkey mediated another Syrian-Iraqi meeting last week in Cairo that ended with the Iraqi foreign minister accusing Syria of fueling sectarian tensions in Iraq and supporting terrorism. Syria denies the charges.

Meanwhile, Turkey and Syria on Wednesday bilaterally waived visa requirements in a sign of improving ties, Davutoglu said.

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