YNet News (Link) - Roee Nahmias (January 1, 2011)
A Kuwaiti newspaper reported Saturday that there is “unprecedented Syrian willingness” to enter back into negotiations with Israel.
The report, which is based on US sources among others, stated that Washington is engaged in secret talks with Syrian senior officials regarding peace talks with Israel. The report has not been confirmed by any other source.
According to the report, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem signaled the US two weeks ago that “the Syrians are ready to reopen direct talks with Israel and achieve peace.” Moallem is in close contact with US government official Dennis Ross.
US President Barack Obama believes, based on such sources, that peace between Israel and Syria would help advance the region. There are no further details regarding the Syrian messages to the US, however Ross has informed the administration that he has “discerned unprecedented Syrian willingness to distance itself from Iran, cool off relations with Hezbollah and Hamas and cooperate with the US on the war on terror.” The report also noted that Israel has shown willingness to withdraw from the Golan Heights.
Getting Israeli green light
Several weeks ago, Ross visited Israel in what the report described as a visit aimed at securing an Israeli green light to negotiations. According to the newspaper, there is a strong link between the surprising breakthrough and the appointment of Robert Ford as the US’s new ambassador to Syria. There has been no US ambassador in Damascus for the past five years since the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The Congress is now in recess and cannot oppose the appointment.
The report quoted other sources which it described as conservative elements in Washington saying that economic sanctions were suffocating Iran and have led Syrian President Bashar Assad to pull himself out of the alliance with Iran. They were further quoted as saying that Assad believes that peace will protect his government from an international tribunal investigating Hariri’s murder. Nevertheless, the report was not supported by other sources.
Meanwhile, former IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz addressed contacts with Damascus Saturday and said: “The meaning of peace with Syria will be overwhelming concessions in the Golan Heights, I don’t know how far. One has to ask whether the public is ready for this. A leader who will take the lead and present an agreement to the public would have the people’s support.” †