Olmert: Syria negotiations "not easy" but a "national duty"
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Wednesday that negotiations with Syria will "not be easy" and need concessions that "aren't simple," but they were the best way to guarantee security along Israel's northern border, dpa reported.
Wednesday's triple announcement that Israel and Syria had begun indirect peace negotiations under Turkish auspices was "the conclusion of a stage in a more than one-year-long process," Olmert said in his first reaction to the renewed talks.
"The renewal of negotiations with Syria after eight years of freeze is certainly exciting, but beyond that, it is a national duty that must be exploited," he told an education conference in Tel Aviv.
"The years that passed since the (Israeli-Syrian) negotiations were frozen did no good to our security situation on our northern border, which is still the main source of our concern for regional deterioration," he said.
"In such a situation it is always preferable to talk than to shoot, and I am glad that the two sides decided to talk.
"I have no illusions. The negotiations will not be easy and it won't be simple and they may take a long time, and may need at the end of the day concessions that aren't simple.
But, he added, "I have reached the conclusion that the chance outweighs the risk in this case and with that hope we embark today on the road."
Israeli-Syrian peace negotiations broke off in early 2000, after then Israeli premier Ehud Barak offered to withdraw from most of the occupied-Golan Heights, but wanted to keep a buffer strip along the eastern shore of northern Israel's Sea of Galilee, and Damascus rejected the offer.