Monday, January 22, 2007

Switzerland admits mediating Syria-Israel talks

Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey divulges that her country arbitrated secret peace talks between Israel and Syria, at special press conference for the occasion of her election

Roee Nahmias
Latest Update: 01.22.07, 20:19
Original Article at: YNETNEWS

Switzerland mediated the secret peace talks between Israel and Syria which were exposed in the media last week, Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey admitted Monday.

The recently elected Federal Council president revealed her country’s role in the Damascus-Jerusalem contacts during a press conference held for the occasion of her presidential appointment, Swiss media reported.

Former Foreign Ministry Director General Dr. Alon Liel was the Israeli representative at the unofficial talks, opposite Ibrahim Soliman , a Syrian American with close ties to Damascus.

Speaking to reporters at the Netanya Academic College last week, Dr. Liel admitted that the talks were mediated by a European country, whose identity he refused to divulge.

“Our only way of ascertaining that our counterparts were serious was sending someone to Damascus nearly every month to verify this,” Liel explained. He described the mediator as “a super-professional, super responsible European dignitary.”

Confirming Liel’s statements, Calmy-Rey said Monday that the mediator was in Syria at present, adding that Switzerland’s foreign affairs secretary would depart for Damascus next week.

Calmy-Rey served as Switzerland’s foreign minister last year and made multiple visits to Israel . She was known to make frequent non-neutral, activist comments which were not always well-received in Israel, and which contradicted the neutral stance of previous Swiss foreign ministers.

She made particular efforts to advance the recognition of Magen David Adom by the International Red Cross.

Her activism earned criticism within Switzerland as well, as her activism was often perceived as deviated from her country’s traditional policy of neutrality. She currently holds the topmost position in Switzerland’s political system.

The Swiss government, which represents the state’s various cantons, comprises a multi-party coalition, making up a seven-member executive council which is newly elected each year.

'Syria sincere about peace'
In a rare interview with Ynet from his home in a Washington suburb this weekend, Syrian representative in the talks Ibrahim Soliman said that talks were held with the knowledge and support of the administrations in both Jerusalem and Damascus.

"Syria wanted to make peace with Israel, Syria wanted to build relations with the United States; President Assad said time and again that he wanted to have good relations with the United States. He extended his hand in friendship and peace to Israel and the US, and they turned him down,” Suleiman said.

Soliman was scheduled to address the Israeli public for the first time next week, in a speech at the Herzliya conference, as the special guest of Dr. Uzi Arad, chief diplomatic consultant to the prime minister during Benjamin Netanyahu’s term. However, when his efforts were publicized, Soliman, who believes strongly that media exposure sabotages diplomatic negotiations, decided to cancel his visit.

First Published: 01.22.07, 20:08


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