Report: With U.S. Help, Israel and Syria Moving Closer Toward Peace Agreement

Kuwaiti newspaper al-Rai reports U.S. believes Syria ready to distance itself from Iran, Hezbollah.

The United States has been in secret contact with Syrian officials in the hopes of realizing a comprehensive Israel-Syrian peace treaty, the Kuwaiti al-Rai newspaper reported yesterday.

The past few weeks have seen "unprecedented Syrian cooperation" in the peace process, prompting Washington to talk with Syrian officials to reach a peace agreement between Syria and Israel, informed sources told al-Rai.

Sources in Jerusalem deny the report.

According to the paper, Obama adviser Dennis Ross went to Damascus and Israel, and met with senior Syrian officials.

Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, who has had a special relationship with Ross since the former's posting as Syrian ambassador to the United States in the 1990s, sent a message to the United States about two weeks ago that the Syrians are ready to re-engage in dialogue with Israel to reach peace.

According to al-Rai, Washington views an agreement between Israel and Syria as a way of advancing peace in the region and restarting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

The Kuwati newspaper says that while the content of Ross' discussions with the Syrians is not known, Ross has informed Washington that the Syrians are more ready than ever before to disengage from Iran and loosen its ties to Hezbollah, while cooperating more closely with the United States in the war on terror.

In return, according to the paper, Israel has expressed "complete willingness" to return the entire Golan to Syria as well as willingness to share water resources and normalize relations between the two countries immediately.

American sources told al-Rai that Syria's willingness has led the United States to the goodwill step of appointing a temporary ambassador to Damascus, Robert Ford, after a five-year hiatus.

According to al-Rai, "right-wing" American sources said that following economic pressure on Iran, Syrian President Bashar Assad had been having second thoughts about his alliance with Iran.

A growing number of Israel Defense Force officers have reportedly called for the need to study the possibility of a peace accord with Syria. The officers reportedly also say that a peace agreement with Syria and a return of the Golan heights will undermine Syria's alliance with Iran and terror groups.

'PM: Newspaper incorrect'

Netanyahu's office said in a statement the report in the Kuwaiti paper is incorrect.

Netanyahu said the Palestinians reiterated that the Palestinians are responsible for the diplomatic impasse.

Last week, the prime minister sent National Security Adviser Uzi Arad to meetings in Cairo and Amman to explain his position and ask that pressure be put on the Palestinians. His office added that Netanyahu is to meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the statement said.