French diplomats have informed President Nicolas Sarkozy there is no chance that Paris can initiate meaningful talks between Israel and Syria any time soon.
Two senior diplomats made the conclusion after visiting the Middle East to investigate the possibility of French mediation between the two sides, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported.
Director of the North Africa and Middle East desk at the French Foreign Ministry Patrice Paoli and special adviser to Sarkozy on Middle East affairs Nicolas Gallas submitted a report to the French president a few weeks ago, informing him of their findings.
The two French diplomats visited Israel during the second week of March, while US Vice President Joe Biden was also in Tel Aviv.
They met with Israeli Intelligence and Atomic Energy Minister Dan Meridor, National Security Adviser Uzi Arad, and other officials who had been involved in the previous Israeli administration’s Turkish-mediated talks with Syria, which were conducted in an indirect manner.
In their report, the French diplomats told Sarkozy that they believe meaningful negotiations between Israel and Syria were not possible in the near future because of the significant amount of suspicion that existed on both sides as well as each side’s lack of readiness to meet the other side’s demands.
The report says Israel is not prepared to withdraw from the Golan Heights, while Syria is not ready to cut ties with Iran and Hezbollah.
According to a senior Israeli official, whom Haaretz did not name, during the meeting with Arad, who holds the Syrian portfolio in the Prime Minister’s Office, the two diplomats were told that Israel will not fully withdraw from the Golan Heights.
The official said that Arad had even discussed ideas for land exchanges between Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Israel — at the conclusion of which Israel would end up keeping Golan under occupation.
"After listening to Arad, they realized they were wasting their time and there was no genuine desire in Israel at that stage to progress on the Syrian track," the official said.
However, the diplomats had not based that conclusion solely on their meetings in Israel.
They also met with Syrian President Bashar Assad and other Syrian officials, who made it clear to them that Syria had no intention of cutting off its close relationship with Iran.
The Syrians also told the French diplomats that they would prefer Turkey, rather than France, to mediate if there were to be any negotiations with Israel.