Syria sends minister to Iran after shock revelation Israel talks

Syrian Defense Minister Hassan Turkmani began an official visit to Iran Saturday and is expected to hold talks there with Iran’s leadership on military agreements between the two countries.

“This visit is taking place at the invitation of Iranian Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammed Najjar,” the official IRNA news agency reported.

“The visit is aimed at following up on joint defense agreements, ways to boost defense ties and (talks) on the latest regional and international developments,” a ministry source was quoted as saying.

Sources close to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Friday said that he was unable to conceal his disappointment and surprise at the news of renewed peace talks.

In an interview with the London-based newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat, the sources said that Ahmadinejad characterized the reports as a violation by Damascus of the two countries’ mutual responsibilities toward one another.

The sources added that the Iranian leader also received detailed information about the secret negotiations weeks before the Syrian foreign minister’s recent visit to Tehran.

According to the newspaper, Iran’s Supreme National Security Council is preparing a response to a letter from Syria that mentioned its contact with Israel.
An Iranian editor also revealed to al-Sharq al-Awsat that the council instructed Iranian communications outlets and official Web sites not to refer at all to the Israel-Syria talks until further notice.

Iran denied Saturday that it is opposed to the indirect peace talks between Syria and Israel. Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said at a press conference in Tehran, held with visiting Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshal, that Tehran “supports Damascus in seeking to restore the Golan.”

“The Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, is too weak to take the necessary steps for peace with Syria,” said Meshal Saturday.

Mottaki did not comment directly on the announcement Wednesday that Israel and Syria had entered indirect negotiations, but Meshal said “there is great skepticism concerning [Israel’s] seriousness about returning the Golan Heights.”

“It’s maneuvering and playing with all the (negotiating) tracks it’s a well-known game and, besides, Olmert’s weakness will not allow him to take this step,” the Hamas leader said.

Meshal, who is based in Damascus, was careful not to criticize Syria’s decision to enter negotiations with Israel and said he was sure the renewed talks would not come at the expense of the Palestinian track.

He once again condemned of the blockade of Gaza, and again threatened to forcibly reopen the Rafah crossing to Egypt.

“If the international community and the concerned parties don’t take the initiative and break the siege, we will break it ourselves. We insist on opening all crossings, particularly Rafah,” Meshal said.

Last week, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni declared that Israel expects Syria to cut ties with Iran and the militant groups as part of a peace accord.

Syria rejected this demand, according to a government-affiliated newspaper.

Saturday’s editorial in Tishrin, which reflects official policy, said Israel could not lay down conditions ahead of negotiations.

“Damascus does not want preconditions, that would put the cart before the horse … It does not bargain over its relations with other countries and people,” the editorial stated.

“It goes without saying that impossible conditions cannot facilitate the work of negotiators,” added the editorial, which likened doing so to putting spikes in the wheels of the peace process.

Friday, the London-based daily Al-Sharq al-Awsat reported that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was “dumbfounded” when he learned several weeks ago of the progress in talks between Syria and Israel.

The same daily reported that Ahmadinejad considered the Syrian participation in the negotiations as “a violation of mutual commitments” with Iran.