Iran decries contacts between Syria and 'illegitimate' Israel
French envoy: Tighter Iran sanctions could spur regime change, says Assad could visit Knesset in 2009.
Iran is unhappy about ongoing indirect talks between Syria and Israel and believes that any ensuing peace agreement would lead to radical changes in Syrian-Iranian relations, an Iranian official said in remarks published Monday.
Hussein Shariatmadari, an advisor to Iran's spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, told the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat that Tehran was unhappy that Islamic countries like Syria and Turkey were holding talks with Israel.
"We always say there is no country called Israel in the region. This country is called Palestine. So, it is normal that we reject any negotiations between an Islamic state, like Syria or Turkey, and an illegitimate, non-existent state," Shariatmadari said.
Israel and Syria announced last month that they had agreed to hold indirect peace talks through Turkish mediation. At the heart of the negotiations is the return by Israel to Syria of the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau captured by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War.
"Negotiations over prisoner exchange does not mean that Hezbollah recognizes Israel. Hamas too, like Iran and Hezbollah, does not recognize a thing called Israel. A truce agreement is not a recognition of the state of Israel," the Iranian official said.
Relations between Syria and Iran will be subject to radical changes if Damascus signs a peace agreement with Israel, Shariatmadari said but added that this was his personal view.
"But I think that the signing of such an agreement would be also against the opinion of Iran, the Iranian government and the Iranian people," he added.
Syrian President Bashar Assad has said that Damascus would establish normal relations, including the opening of embassies, if a peace agreement was sealed with Israel. Assad made his comments on Sunday in Paris, where he attended the inauguration of an EU-Mediterranean union that brings together northern and southern countries that ring the sea, including Syria and Israel.
French envoy backs tougher Iran sanctions French Ambassador to Israel Jean-Michel Casa was quoted as saying Monday that more intensive sanctions against Tehran could lead to regime change for Iran.
"If Iranian products are boycotted all over the world, the public in Iran will begin to say to itself that the nuclear program is unnecessary, and the regime may begin to behave more logically," Army Radio quoted Casa as saying.
In an interview on the occasion of Bastille Day, France's independence day, Casa told the radio that "France, like Israel and the international community, thinks that there are two things which should be avoided: nuclear weaponry in Iranian hands, and another catastrophe, launching a military operation against it..
According to Casa, those who speak to Iran must do so "with determination, and go with much more efficient sanctions."
Regarding negotiations between Syria and Israel, the French ambassador voiced hope that by the beginning of the coming year, contacts between the sides could bring about a visit by Assad to the Knesset, or a visit by President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to Damascus.
"Assad has spoken of direct negotiations at the end of this year or perhaps at the beginning of next year," Casa said.
'Assad could visit Knesset in 2009' In a reference to the French-sponsored conference of Mediterranean states, in which both Olmert and Assad took part but did not shake each other's hands, Casa said that "Even if not everyone met as we would have wanted, face-to-face, it was important that everyone came to the same place."
The leaders of Syria and Israel, as well as the Palestinian and Lebanese presidents, together marked Bastille Day on Monday in a diplomatic coup for French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
"Don't forget that we were nearly in a military incident this summer, and [there was] also the story according to which Israel bombed in Syria in September," Casa added, in a reference to military tensions in the north and widespread reports that the Israel Air Force destroyed a suspected nuclear facility last year.
"That was certainly something, even if the talks are not taking place directly."