(Communicated by the Prime Minister’s Media Adviser)

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon met this afternoon (Tuesday), 4 January 2005, with Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul. The Prime Minister noted that Israel attaches great importance to advancing its relations with Turkey and to continuing to develop them in all areas; he invited Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to visit Israel.

On the negotiations with the Palestinians, Prime Minister Sharon said that up until now the Palestinian leadership has taken no steps against terrorism. The Prime Minister added that a condition to any diplomatic progress is the complete elimination of the terrorist organizations and incitement.

Prime Minister Sharon emphasized that Israel would implement the Disengagement Plan in full, according to the timetable that has been determined.  He pointed out that implementing the Disengagement Plan has the potential of returning to the diplomatic negotiations according to the Roadmap as long as the Palestinians fulfill their commitments in the war on terrorism, eliminate it and implement comprehensive government reforms.

Prime Minister Sharon said that we view recent developments in the Palestinian Authority (PA) as an opportunity in the framework of which it should be possible to advance the diplomatic process. If a new PA leadership is chosen that does not support the path of terrorism, fights its infrastructures and dismantles its organizations, the response of the Israeli side would be positive and we would be prepared to go towards them, assist them and even coordinate with them on various elements related to the disengagement.

Prime Minister Sharon noted that there is daily contact between Israel and the PA on various issues related to the elections.

Prime Minister Sharon made it clear that if Palestinian terrorism continues during the disengagement, Israel’s response would be very sharp.

Prime Minister Sharon thanked Turkish Foreign Minister Gul for the letter that Turkey sent to UN Secy.-Gen. Kofi Annan regarding a special UN General Assembly session to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the camps. The Prime Minister also expressed satisfaction over the increase in bilateral trade, which will top $2 billion this year.

Turkish Foreign Minister Gul said that Turkey would continue to fight and condemn anti-Semitism both in Turkey and elsewhere. He noted that bilateral relations were very special, strong and stable, and that Turkey was greatly interested in strengthening them.

Turkish Foreign Minister Gul expressed his country’s satisfaction over the positive steps that Israel has taken recently in order to facilitate the holding of proper and democratic elections in the PA, including the release of Palestinian prisoners last week.

Turkish Foreign Minister Gul said that there was no justification for terrorism and added that it must be completely stopped, further adding that he intends to pass this message on to the Palestinians tomorrow. He said that the new Palestinian leadership must show both willingness and leadership in the war on terrorism, adding that Israel must render assistance if it indeed does so. He noted that Israel and Turkey are the only two democracies in the region, adding that there must be more democracies.

On the Syrian issue, Turkish Foreign Minister Gul said that he had the impression that the Syrians were interested in being part of the regional peace process and added that they understand that the world has changed.

Regarding Syria, Prime Minister Sharon said that we know that Syria is under considerable international pressure. They Syrians are aiding terrorism in Iraq and the Americans are putting heavy pressure on them. In order to escape the pressure, they are issuing calls for peace. Here too, we want to see actions, not words. The headquarters of very dangerous terrorist organizations, which issue orders to perpetrate terrorism in Israel, are active in Damascus. They must dismantle the terrorist organizations’ headquarters, prevent Hezbollah from operating against Israel and stop helping Iran and Hezbollah use terrorism against Israel.

Prime Minister Sharon said that while Israel would be happy to hold peaceful relations with all Arab countries, in regard to Syria we do not see even the slightest indication of candor and seriousness.  “They can prove this only by deeds.”