Syria signalling readiness for talks, Israeli defence minister says
Syrian President Bashar Assad is apparently signalling willingness to engage in peace talks with Israel - which would respond to any genuine attempt at negotiations - Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said Monday.
"I think we have to examine every option. If it emerges that the Syrian president intends truthfully and is seriously examining this, based on the understanding that peace is mutual, he will find us willing," he told Israel Radio's popular "It's all Talk" current affairs talk show, DPA reported.
Direct Israeli-Syrian peace talks broke off in early 2000 and have never been resumed, although the sides did engage in indirect negotiations - with Turkey as a mediator - some years ago.
Syria demands the return of the Golan Heights, captured in the 1967 Middle East war, as a prerequisite for any peace treaty. But Israeli leaders have officially rejected handing back all of that strategic plateau, which overlooks northern Israel.
Also in the Monday morning radio interview, Barak said Israel needed to strengthen the peace process with the Palestinians, but refused to say whether any new Israeli peace plan was in the offing.
"We live in a very unstable region that is undergoing major upheavals. The Middle East is a tough neighbourhood. There is no mercy for the weak. There will be no second opportunity for those who can't defend themselves," he said.
"Obviously we will look out, in any agreement, for our interests, firstly our security interests. This is worth doing even now with the wave of revolutions in the Arab world," he added.
Barak said that recent upheavals in Egypt, which led to the departure from power of Hosni Mubarak, did not automatically mean the country was heading toward a "Jeffersonian democracy."
Even though the general direction is towards progress, Egypt was not a pluralistic society and the true test was whether change could occur "without a regression to dictatorship," he said.