Israel, U.S. Views on Syria Talks Unchanged

Neither Jerusalem nor Washington have changed their views on talks with Syria, Israeli and American sources said in response to recent media reports claiming that both now favor such talks.

A few months ago, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he was "examining" Syria's intentions in publicly calling for a resumption of negotiations, which broke off more than seven years ago. According to the Israeli sources, this examination is still not finished, and the government has not yet formulated a clear stance on whether talks should be restarted.

A diplomatic source said yesterday that the United States had never vetoed Israeli-Syrian talks; it merely asked that Israel not surprise it. A senior Israeli government source added that Israel never requested American permission to talk with Syria, as it has not yet decided whether it wishes to do so.

The U.S administration views Syria as a troublemaker that facilitates terror in Iraq and the territories and is undermining Lebanon's stability. Its message to Israel in recent months has been that Israel is welcome to negotiate a return of the Golan Heights to Syria if it desires, but the U.S. will not support or assist such talks, because it fears that extending a hand to Syrian President Bashar Assad would endanger Fouad Siniora's government in Lebanon.