ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Syria is ready to reopen peace talks with Israel, with Turkey serving as a mediator, but Israel has not asked Ankara to resume that role, Turkish President Abdullah Gul said on Saturday.
“Syria has said it is ready to resume talks where they were left off,” Gul told a news conference. “However, we have not heard from the Israeli side. It is up to them.”
Speaking alongside Gul, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said he was ready for talks. Yet he accused Israel of avoiding negotiations, saying it does not want a resolution in the fight over the Golan Heights, territory Israel captured in 1967.
“Israel is not ready for mediation because it knows that a successful mediation will bring peace, and the Israeli side does not want peace,” he said. “We emphasize mediation and Turkey’s role, but we also say Israel is not an honest partner.”
Israel and Syria held four indirect rounds of talks with Turkish mediation in 2008. Those were suspended after the Israeli incursion into Palestinian-run Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan repeatedly criticized the Israeli offensive in Gaza, prompting some politicians in Israel to question Turkey’s suitability as a neutral mediator.
Muslim but constitutionally secular Turkey has a record of military cooperation with Israel and has acted as an intermediary between the Jewish state and the Arab world.
Warmer ties between NATO member Turkey and Muslim neighbors including Iran and Syria have raised concerns that Ankara’s traditionally Western-anchored foreign policy is moving east.
Turkey could play a part in negotiations between Iran and Western powers over its nuclear program, Assad said.
“I want Turkey to continue its important role because a trust has formed between the Iranian and Turkish governments and Turkey has wide relations with the rest of the region,” he said.
“But any political agreement must be reached on the basis of international agreements ... We want the region purged of weapons of mass destruction,” he said, but added Iran has the right to develop nuclear power.
Iran says it wants nuclear power to generate electricity. The West fears it is designed to develop bombs. The United States has accused Syria of covert nuclear activity, and European allies have criticized Damascus’ lack of transparency.
Editing by Maria Golovnina
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