Jerusalem – As talks between Israel and Syria continue, tensions continue to rise between the United States and Russia.
In a meeting between Vice President Dick Cheney and Israeli President Shimon Peres on Thursday, during a diplomatic-economic conference they both attended in Italy, Mr. Cheney accused Russia of arming worldwide terrorism.
“Russia has sold advanced weapons to regimes in Syria and Iran. Some of the Russian weapons sold to Damascus have been channeled to terrorist fighters in Lebanon and Iraq,” Mr. Cheney said.
During the 2006 Lebanon War, Hezbollah fielded the RPG-29 anti-tank grenade launcher against Israeli tanks with great success. The weapon is among Russia’s latest, compared with the older Soviet RPG-7, dating back to the 1960s, more commonly used by terror groups. According to reports, Hezbollah obtained the RPG-29s from Syria, which had in turn received them from Russia.
Mr. Cheney also referenced Russia’s recent invasion of Georgia and the tens of thousands of Georgians who had been displaced or killed by Russian forces.
“It’s unfortunately the case that Russia’s leaders regard the expansion of free governments and democratic values as a threat to their country’s own interests,” Mr. Cheney said of Russia antagonism toward Georgia’s pro-Western government.
Mr. Peres told Mr. Cheney about his meetings with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and said that he had gained the impression that Russia opposes Iran’s acquisition of nuclear arms.
“In the name of religious fundamentalism, Mr. Ahmadinejad is seeking to impose terrorism and religious hegemony upon the entire Middle East,” he said. “The United States and Europe must create a clear alternative to oil, which is the main funding source of worldwide terrorism.”
In an interview that he gave to the Sunday Times in London over the weekend, Mr. Peres said that he had advised Prime Minister Ehud Olmert not to attack Iran.
Mr. Peres added that Israel is determined to fight against terror by using advanced technology.
“War against the terrorist groups is not like war against armies,” Mr. Peres said. “A joint intelligence array of Israel and the moderate Arab states must be formed, with assistance from the United States and Europe, in order to provide an appropriate response to worldwide terrorism, whose major centers are located in the Middle East.”
For his part, Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid Muallem made it clear over the weekend that Israel’s answer regarding the future border between the two countries would be key to peace.
In an interview with the London-based Arabic lauguage newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, published last Wednesday, Mr. Muallem referred to the six-point “statement of principles” his government had given the Turkish mediator during the talks in Istanbul.
It appears the Syrians are demanding a written Israeli commitment or public statement of its agreement to withdraw to border as it stood prior to the June 1967 Six-Day War. Consequently, the Syrians could once again position troops and mortars on the Golan Heights to once again pose a security challenge to Israel’s Upper Galilee region if they chose to do so. This remains a serious Israeli concern when it comes to discussions with Damascus.
“That is not a subject for discussion anymore, but rather a basis for the opening of direct negotiations,” Mr. Muallem said. As a result, the fifth round of talks will be “substantial and important” and will deal with this matter.
Syrian officials said over the weekend that full Syrian sovereignty over the Golan Heights is not subject to negotiation. As of now, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad remains entrenched in his position.
He has conditioned the holding of direct negotiations on having the United States accompany the talks. From his perspective, American support is essential, mainly for economic reasons. In order to end his increasing economic dependence upon Tehran, he needs American financial support.
In the past, Mr. Olmert contacted President George W. Bush, updating him Israel’s talks with Syria. However, the chances of an agreement being reached between Israel and Syria before Mr. Olmert ends his term are nil.
Report: US To Take Part In Israel-Syria Talks
The next round of talks between Israel and Syria will be held in Istanbul in about two weeks at the presence of a senior American delegate, according to another London-based Arabic language newspaper, al-Sharq al-Awsat reported Saturday.
According to the report, the American representative will act as an observer in the talks.
State officials denied the report on an American observer being sent to the talks. A source in Jerusalem said, “We are not aware of such a plan.”
A senior source in Damascus refused to address the report directly, telling the newspaper that “Syria is not dealing with the arrival of an American observer to the indirect talks.”
Meanwhile, French President Nicolas Sarkozy was Mr. Assad’s guest in Damascus on Thursday, in a visit which officially ended years of severed relations following the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, in which senior Syrian officials were implicated.
Mr. al-Assad stated during the meeting with the French president that the fifth round of Turkish-mediated talks with Israel would be postponed due to the resignation of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s chief of staff, Yoram Turbowicz. He resigned as the Israeli emissary to the talks at the end of July, when he heard that Mr. Olmert had announced that he intended to resign. The Israeli Prime Minister’s Office awaits the opinion of its legal advisor and the attorney general as to whether Mr. Turbowicz could participate in the talks with Syria on a voluntary basis.
David Bedein can be reached at email@example.com. His Web site is www.IsraelBehindTheNews.com
©The Bulletin 2008