Assad against secret talks with Israel
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has declared he is against holding secret talks with Israel, despite behind-the-scenes mediation efforts. Assad was quoted as telling a meeting of the ruling Baath Party's command on Sunday that "there are efforts being made in this direction and they are not new. The Israeli side knows full well what Syria would or would not accept".
However, he said Syria rejects secret talks with Israel and anything Syrian official did in this regard would be in front of the public opinion. "Syria rejects secret talks or contacts with Israel… what could Syria do in this regard will be announced to the public opinion in Syria and the only criterion to accept any talks is to be serious and committed to UN resolutions," President al-Assad said.
The Syrian News Agency (SANA) quoted Assad as saying: "The standard for accepting negotiations is their seriousness and conformity to United Nations resolutions." "In this regard, Syria expresses in every occasion its readiness to establish a just and comprehensive peace based on international legitimacy resolutions," President al-Assad said.
Carter talks in Damascus
Meanwhile, former U.S. president Jimmy Carter said on Monday Assad is "eager" to restart negotiations with Israel over the Golan Heights and believes that 85 percent of the differences between the two countries has already been resolved. Speaking to reporters following talks with officials in Syria and Egypt, Carter said: "In all my conversations with President Assad, whom I've known since he was a college student, I was impressed with their eagerness, complete the agreement on the Golan Heights."
According to Carter, Assad said that "the only major difference in starting good faith talks was that Israel insisted that there will be no public acknowledgement that the talks were going on when Syria insisted that the talks would not be a secret."
The former U.S. president also relayed that Assad believes "85 percent of the differences [between Israel and Syria] had already been resolved, including an agreement on the borders, on water rights - which is applied on the Sea of Galilee - on the security zone and on the presence of international forces."
According to Haaretz, Carter reiterated that "Syria believes that for all practical purposes all the differences have already been resolved between Syria and Israel and it is just a matter of reconvening the talks and concluding an agreement."
Speaking about the possibility of renewed peace talks between Israel and Syria, he said "Syria wants the U.S. to play a strong role in bringing to two sides together."