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Syria, EU Tout Headway in Mideast Summit

Syria said four-way talks in Damascus, which include EU President Nicolas Sarkozy, have made headway toward opening diplomatic ties with Lebanon and negotiating a peace with Israel.

Syrian President Bashar Assad, left, welcomed French President Nicolas Sarkozy at Ash-Shaeb presidential palace, in Damascus Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2008.

Sarkozy, right, was welcomed by Assad for the groundbreaking summit

The summit, on current regional conflicts, was led by Syrian President Bahsar Assad, and attended by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is current president of the European Union; the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani; and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The announcement that Syria and Lebanon would open ties was broadcast on Arabic television.

Furthermore, Assad told the summit that his country had handed proposals for peace with Israel to Turkish mediators, and is waiting for Israel's response before holding any face-to-face negotiations. He didn't disclose any details on the proposals.

Turkey as go-between for Syria, Israel

Israel and Syria launched indirect negotiations brokered by Turkey in May, eight years after they were broken off over the fate of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. A fifth round of talks was due on Sunday.

Turkey's premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan, portrait

Turkey's Erdogan is the Israeli-Syrian go-between

"After four rounds of negotiations, there should have been a fifth crucial round, but the resignation of the (Israeli) negotiator has postponed this round, which was to determine the evolution of these negotiations," Assad said.

Syria has said that ultimately only the United States has the clout to sponsor direct peace talks, and that that must await the inauguration of a new US president next year.

Israeli PM choice is key

But it has been keen in the meantime to win greater international support for the preliminary negotiations already under way.

"The summit seeks to draft a declaration of principles that would form a basis for direct peace talks between Syria and Israel," Assad told the meeting.

Assad has said the future of negotiations rests on who becomes prime minister in Israel and whether the new leader will be committed to pursuing peace with Syria. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's party will hold elections this month to choose a new party leader, who could become prime minister.

Sarkozy offers French help

Assad, who headed the meeting in Damascus, is president of the Arab League. His goal in intiating the summit was to re-establish his country's position as a regional power in the Middle East.

Sarkozy, on a landmark visit to Damascus, said Europe hailed Turkey's role as mediator between the two neighbors, who have remained technically in a state of war since the creation of Israel in 1948.

"The Turks have done a remarkable job, which should lead to direct negotiations," he told the summit, adding that if Israel agreed to talk face-to-face with the Syrians, France was ready to help.

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