08/06/2008, 00.00
SYRIA - TURKEY

Peace with Israel, Iranian nuclear program addressed in meeting between Assad and Erdogan

The visit indicates the increasing diplomatic impact of Ankara, where Ahmadinejad will arrive next week. For Damascus, it is a chance to focus on indirect talks with Jerusalem, and possibly an attempt to pressure Washington.

Ankara (AsiaNews) - The situation in the Middle East - in particular, relations with Israel and the Iranian nuclear question - and bilateral relations, including economic, are at the center of the visit to Turkey that Syrian president Bashar al Assad began yesterday. In the tourist city of Bodrum, where Assad's family is staying on vacation, the Syrian president had a long working lunch with Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The situation of indirect peace talks with Israel, opened with Turkish mediation and now complicated by the announcement of prime minister Ehud Olmert's resignation, were certainly at the center of the long meeting between Assad and Erdogan, who have known each other for a long time. The indirect negotiations - which reached the fourth round last week, and are supposed to continue in mid-August - are aimed at a peace agreement. The Syrians are asking for the restitution of the strategic Golan Heights, conquered by Israel in the war of 1967, while the Jewish state wants Damascus to end its alliance with Iran and its support for Hezbollah and Hamas. But in order to agree to the Israeli requests, Assad wants political and economic support from the United States, which, under the Bush presidency, says it does not want to make commitments in this direction.

In this context, Assad's visit to Turkey could also be aimed at pressuring the United States, possibly thanks in part to Ankara. The Syrian president has just met with Iranian president Ahmadinejad, and the two reiterated their affirmation of common intent. The maneuver was probably intended to show that Syria is able to move - and make an impact - on two fronts.

In Ankara's view, Assad's visit confirms Turkey's growing diplomatic importance: Ahmadinejad himself will arrive within a week, under the shadow of likely UN sanctions following his fresh rejection of the proposals of the permanent members of the Security Council (United States, Russia, China, Great Britain, and France) plus Germany, to halt the Iranian program of uranium enrichment.

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