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Syria, Israel reportedly in indirect talks

  • Story Highlights
  • Syrian president tells newspaper indirect talks taking place with Israel since 2006
  • Turkey's role led to "new and positive outcomes," president said
  • Key point between the two is the Golan Heights captured by Israel in 1967
  • Israel has yet to officially comment on President Bashar Al-Assad's interview
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(CNN) -- Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad has been indirectly negotiating with Israel for a year, through Turkey, according to Arabic language newspaper published this week.

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Al-Assad said he is meeting with the Turkish prime minister this weekend.

Al-Assad told Qatar's Arabic language al-Watan newspaper Syria has been speaking to Israeli representatives since Israel's war with Hezbollah militants in Lebanon in the summer of 2006.

"However, Turkey's involvement only started last year and particularly in April 2007, leading to new and positive outcomes," he said.

According to the Syrian leader, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert "has confirmed to the Turkish Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip Erdogan] his readiness to return the Golan Heights."

"We received this news a week ago, and after that we heard Olmert saying in a statement: 'We know what Syria wants, and Syria knows what we want.' "

Syria has been pushing Israel to return the Golan Heights, which Israel seized from Syria in the Six Day War in 1967.

Al-Assad said there have not been any direct talks with Israel, but signaled that could happen in the future.

"Maybe with the coming administration in the United States we can talk about direct negotiations," he told al-Watan.

Israel has yet to officially comment on Al-Assad's interview.

Alon Liel, a retired Israeli diplomat who supports Israeli-Syrian negotiations, said he believes talks between the two countries could change "the balance of power in the Middle East in favor of the moderates."

"I think that [what] the Israeli public will understand [is] that in return for the withdrawal we are getting a moderate Syria in the region," Liel said, adding, "I think the Israeli public will be ready to pay the price."

News of the interview comes days after former U.S. President Jimmy Carter wrapped up a visit to the region, which included talks with Al-Assad on the Golan Heights issue.

"Senior government officials pledged to complete an agreement on the Golan Heights and peace with Israel as soon as possible," according to Carter.

"The government took very seriously the recent comment by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that he understood Syrian expectations, and he thought Syria understood Israeli expectations," Carter said following his trip.

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"Since the Syrian government considers that about 85 percent of the issues have been resolved in prior negotiations, it believes the agreement should be completed soon," he added.

Al-Assad told the newspaper that issues relating to Israel will be discussed this weekend when Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan visits the Syrian capital, Damascus. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Roba Alhenawi in Atlanta, Georgia, contributed to this report

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