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France gives boost to Israeli-Syrian talks

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But the very fact that Israel and Syria are engaged in talks just months after they seemed on the brink of a war is something of a breakthrough. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's spokesman, Mark Regev, credited the talks with reducing tensions along Israel's northern border for the first time in several years.

Mr. Assad has already reaped dividends. Sarkozy's visit to attend a mini-Middle East summit this week warms a three-year freeze in the relations between the countries that followed the 2005 assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Assad, shunned in recent years by the Bush administration, said this week that the US must be involved to reach an agreement that Syria expects will end years of isolation and bring a wave of foreign investment.

"The Syrian side is trying to publicize that there are no big reasons that there can't be an agreement in the near future," says Rime Allaf, an associate fellow at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London. The summit with France, Turkey, and Qatar is "still another point of pressure on the Americans and Israelis that there is a will to see this deal through."

An Israeli-Syrian deal will relieve the threat of war along Israel's northern border, reducing the chance for a flare up with Hezbollah in Lebanon following a month-long war between the sides in 2006, says Ms. Allaf.

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