Image: Bashar Assad and Nicolas Sarkozy
Gerard Cerles  /  AP
Syrian President Bashar Assad, left, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy are seen on the balcony of a Damascus restaurant on Wednesday night.
updated 9/4/2008 6:45:37 AM ET 2008-09-04T10:45:37

Syrian President Bashar Assad disclosed Thursday that his country has given Turkish mediators an outline of general proposals for peace with Israel and is waiting for Israel's response before holding any face-to-face negotiations.

Assad said the document was intended to serve as the basis for direct talks and that he was waiting for a similar document laying out Israel's starting position. So far, negotiations have been held indirectly through Turkish mediation.

The Syrian president also cautioned that the future of negotiations rested on who becomes prime minister in Israel and whether the new leader will be committed to pursuing peace with Syria.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the target of several corruption investigations, has announced he will step down after his party chooses a new leader this month. That has left peace prospects with both Syria and the Palestinians uncertain.

Olmert's office refused to comment on the Syrian announcement.

Any direct talks would also have to wait until a new American administration is in place, Assad said, acknowledging the importance of strong U.S. backing for such an effort.

Assad spoke Thursday at the opening of a summit in Damascus with the leaders of France, Turkey and Qatar to discuss Mideast stability and peace.

He did not disclose details of the Syrian proposals, and few details have emerged from four rounds of indirect talks with Israel over the past year.

"We are now discussing a document of principles, which talks about general principles of the peace process which will be the basis for direct negotiations," Assad said.

'Withdrawal line'
He said Syria outlined six points on the issue of the "withdrawal line," a reference to the extent of an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights and a major sticking point over which direct negotiations collapsed in 2000.

Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Mideast war.

Assad said the Syrian points were given to the Turkish negotiators "as a deposit." When Israel gives its own proposals to the Turkish side, then the two sides could move to direct negotiations "after a new American administration convinced of the peace process is in place," he said.

Assad has previously said American sponsorship of future negotiations was necessary but after November's U.S. elections bring a new administration to office.

The Syrian leader disclosed that a fifth "decisive" round of indirect talks with Israel in Turkey had been postponed, and said he was waiting for the Israeli political dust to settle, a reference to Olmert's resignation.

"We are waiting now for the Israeli elections to decide the future of this stage," Assad said.

"We want the support of all states, basically France, Qatar and Turkey in order to be assured that the next (Israeli) prime minister will follow the same direction Olmert had followed through his readiness for complete withdrawal from the occupied territories in order for peace to be achieved."

The discussions in Syria's capital followed a one-on-one meeting between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Assad on Wednesday that also focused on prospects for direct Israeli-Syrian peace talks.

Sarkozy offered France's help to sponsor such negotiations when the time comes.

Thursday's summit followed up on that discussion and other regional issues with the participation of Turkey and Qatar, two other important regional players.

Sarkozy's visit to Damascus, the first by a Western leader in at least three years, also aimed to undercut Iranian influence in Syria.

France, Turkey and Qatar are allies of the United States, a sharp critic of Damascus. The U.S. other Western powers have shunned Syria, in part because of its support of Lebanon's Hezbollah and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Thursday's summit boosted Assad's government and consolidated the international warming toward his country led by Sarkozy. In addition to their individual clout, France is the current head of the European Union and Qatar is the current head of the regional Gulf Cooperation Council. Turkey, which borders Syria and Iraq, has good ties with Israel.

'Build the peace that everyone needs'
On Wednesday, Sarkozy encouraged direct talks between Syria and Israel.

"It is very important that the time for Syria and Israel to talk directly comes soon, to build the peace that everyone needs," Sarkozy said at a joint news conference with Assad.

Sarkozy has also stressed that Syria could play a role in persuading its ally Iran to cooperate on resolving Tehran's standoff with the West over the Iranian nuclear program. Sarkozy wants to woo Syria away from the fold of regional power Iran, which the U.S. and its European allies suspect of seeking to develop nuclear weapons.

"Iran must not have a nuclear weapon. ... Nuclear weapons in Iran are a threat to peace in the region and the world. Everybody, in their own way, should get the message through," Sarkozy said.

Assad, who recently visited Tehran but apparently failed to persuade Iranians on the nuclear question, said he would continue that dialogue with the Iranian and French sides.

"We hope to reach a resolution to this problem. No one in the world can bear the consequences of any non-peaceful resolution because it will be a catastrophe," Assad said on Wednesday.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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