|Southwest Asia News Digest
Lavrov Proposes Mideast Conference in Talks with Olmert
March 21 (EIRNS)Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in his talks in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, proposed that Moscow host a Middle East peace conference, where Syrian-Israeli talks will be the major topic of discussion.
Olmert was noncommittal about the conference, saying, according to the Israeli daily Ha'aretz, "We must examine whether such a summit will serve the negotiations with the Palestinians, and only then decide." In response to an inquiry by Lavrov as to whether Israel would be open to Russian mediation in talks with Syria, Olmert said, "I am ready to begin a diplomatic process with Syria only if they distance themselves from the 'axis of evil' and stop supporting Hamas and Hezbollah."
Israeli President Shimon Peres, in talks with Lavrov, said that "talk of peace from Syria arouses distrust within Israel."
Lavrov made the same proposal when he was in Syria on March 19. He said that everyone at the Annapolis, Md. peace conference last November agreed that a follow-up conference should be held in Moscow, which would focus on the Syrian-Israel track.
Sergei Kiprichenko, Russia's ambassador to Syria, said that Lavrov's trip to Israel was aimed at nailing down a date for the conference. "We are definitely talking about holding it this year. The Israeli-Syrian peace track is guaranteed to be on the agenda. Syria is very interested and is making efforts for the conference to succeed."
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said Syria would attend such a meeting in Moscow, but warned that Israeli strikes against Gaza make such a conference difficult. "Syria cannot be absent from a major meeting that would discuss the Golan. But it does not make sense to restart the talks with Israeli massacres talking place in Gaza. An atmosphere has to be created first," Moallem said.
Olmert: Israel Is Interested in Syrian Talks
March 17 (EIRNS)Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told a joint session of the Israeli and German cabinets that Israel is interested in talking with Syria, which he said will lead Damascus to break with the "axis of evil." Olmert made a similar statement to the Israeli cabinet last week.
This is the first joint session of the Israeli cabinet with the eight ministers of the German cabinet who accompanied Chancellor Angela Merkel on her state visit to Israel. The fact that such a statement was made in such a forum is seen as yet another reaffirmation that Israel, with international support, especially from the U.S., would enter peace negotiations with Syria.
Lavrov Discusses Moscow Peace Conference with Palestinians
March 22 (EIRNS)Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov held talks yesterday with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on the West Bank, where they discussed the Russian initiative for a peace conference in Moscow. Lavrov told Abbas that he has discussed the conference with the other Quartet membersthe United States, the European Union, the United Nationsand other Arab countries.
During a joint press conference with Abbas, Lavrov said they were prepared to do anything to assure the success of such a conference. "We will also work to speed up the international community's efforts in order to implement what was agreed upon in Annapolis," Lavrov is quoted by as saying in Israel's Ynet. Denouncing Israel's continued settlement building, he said, "We call for an immediate halt to settlement activity." Lavrov also called for Israel to lift the siege on the Gaza Strip.
Ha'aretz reports that Israel has allowed the sale of 25 Russian armored vehicles to the Palestinian National Authority, after Russia agreed not to have machine guns mounted on them.
Hamas-Fatah Talks Inconclusive
March 20 (EIRNS)Talks between Hamas and Fatah in Yemen ended today, without reconciliation, ostensibly over Fatah's insistence that Hamas relinquish control over Gaza, as a precondition for talks on restoring a coalition government. However, the fact that Hamas agreed to participate in the talks holds out the prospect for progress.