Syria: Talks making progress

Syria said its indirect peace talks with Israel are making progress despite Ehud Olmert’s impending resignation.

“If the talks had not progressed, then they would have been stopped,” Buthaina Shaaban, an adviser to Syrian President Bashar Assad, told reporters Wednesday in reference to Turkish-mediated negotiations that were unveiled in May.

Asked whether the Israeli prime minister’s decision to step down next month could disrupt the talks, Shaaban said, “We are not concerned with whether Olmert resigns or not. We are not a party to internal Israeli issues.”

Syria has demanded an Israeli undertaking to return the Golan Heights before direct negotiations can be held. Israel, in turn, wants Syria to distance itself from Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas.

Shaaban indicated that the two sides are still too far apart in their negotiating terms.

“The talks are still preliminary and indirect,” she said. “When we achieve the progress we want, then the political leadership might take a decision to move to direct talks.”

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