A Cabinet minister said Wednesday that Israel has passed a message to Syria saying it is prepared to return the Golan Heights in exchange for a peace treaty.
Israeli officials declined to comment on the report, but the message could be a sign of progress in back-channel contacts that the two nations have reported in recent days.
Syrian Emigrant Affairs Minister Buthaina Shaaban told satellite television al-Jazeera that the message from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was relayed to Syrian President Bashar Assad by Turkey’s leader.
The message said Olmert “is ready for peace with Syria based on international conditions and the full return of the Golan Heights,” Shaaban said.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyiop Erdogan is due in Damascus on Saturday for talks with Assad and Shaaban said more details about the message would be disclosed during that visit.
U.S. pressing China on Tibet
Criticized by U.S. senators for not doing more to help Tibet, Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte said the Bush administration was pressing China to negotiate directly with the Dalai Lama and stop “the public vilification” of the exiled spiritual leader.
Negroponte acknowledged to the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on East Asian Affairs that the U.S. policy of “quiet diplomacy” with the Chinese government had produced “results that are so far minimal at best.”
Since China’s crackdown on protests in Tibet in March, U.S. officials have called on China to allow greater access to Tibet for diplomats and journalists, release monks and other prisoners and begin a dialogue with the Dalai Lama.
“None of these requests have been significantly addressed,” Negroponte testified. “We are deeply troubled by the reports of bloodshed, arrests and mistreatment of detainees.”
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who chairs the subcommittee, said she was frustrated that U.S. policy had not done more to influence China. She said the Bush administration should push harder to open a U.S. consulate in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet.
Thousands cheer Olympic torch
Runners bearing the Olympic torch completed a 10-mile relay through the Australian capital today, cheered by thousands waving Chinese flags and unimpeded by pockets of pro-Tibet protests that led to several arrests.
Crowds lined downtown streets for the Canberra relay on the cool and sunny autumn day as police manned crowd-control barriers, making good on a vow that nothing would stop the torch from finishing its journey.
Officials claimed a victory because it largely avoided the chaotic protest scenes that marred the portions held in Europe and the United States.
“We obviously feared the worst,” local government spokesman Jeremy Lasek said. “We feel right now relieved but elated – we think we’ve pulled it off.”
Protests of China’s human rights record and its crackdown on anti-government activists in Tibet have turned the relay into a contentious issue for the Olympic movement.