Nicolas Sarkozy said he accepted Bashar Assad’s invitation to have France co-mediate any direct negotiations between Israel and Syria.
Saturday’s announcement by the French president, which Sarkozy called “a historic step forward,” came one day before a summit launching the Union for the Mediterranean began in Paris.
Sarkozy said the United States would serve as co-mediator for any Israel-Syria negotiations after a new American president takes office next year. Israel and Syria are currently holding indirect peace talks through Turkey.
Israel and Syria have raised the specter of direct talks but there have been no agreements.
Sarkozy held talks Saturday with Assad, newly elected Lebanese President Michel Suleiman and the emir of Qatar. His announcement came at a news conference with Suleiman and the emir.
Some 43 nations from around the Mediterranean shores and the European Union have gathered to discuss shared economic, environmental and political issues.
Suleiman and Assad said that after Saturday’s French-mediated discussions, they would take steps to normalize diplomatic ties and hopefully open embassies in both countries for the first time since Syria became independent in 1945 and Lebanon in 1943.
Assad, however, was cautious about setting a timetable for such an event.