Senators McCain, Lieberman to Olmert: Don't Be Tempted by Syrian Talks Offers

A delegation of U.S. senators, led by the Senator John McCain, a possible Republican presidential candidate for 2008, and the self-described "Independent Democrat" Joseph Lieberman, met yesterday with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. McCain and Lieberman urged Israel not to be tempted by Syria's recent overtures regarding negotiations.

According to the press release issued by the prime minister's bureau, the senators expressed vehement opposition to talks with the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. They told Olmert that the Baker-Hamilton report, which recommended U.S. talks with Syuria and Iran, has not been adopted by the U.S. administration, which continues to oppose contacts with Tehran and Damascus.

McCain said the issue of the Golan Heights is completely unrelated to U.S.-Syrian relations. He said the real question is whether Syria wants a genuine peace and is willing to abandon Hezbollah. McCain said he has seen little indication that this was indeed the case.

Olmert told the senators that he wants to achieve peace with Syria but that the present regime in Damascus is not interested in a dialogue toward peace. Instead, he said, it continues to support extremists in Lebanon and Iraq and terror elements in the Palestinian Authority, and to serve as Iran's main ally. Hamas political head Khaled Meshal sits in Damascus because there is nowhere else in the region that is willing to provide refuge to him, the prime minister said.

Olmert said that negotiations with the Palestinians are progressing, albeit slowly, and expressed his intention to meet with PA chair Mahmoud Abbas. He said that Israel continues to honor the cease-fire in Gaza despite the ongoing Qassam rocket attacks.