Albright: 'No done deal' as Israel, Syria prepare to meet
Golan Heights loom over negotiations
January 2, 2000
SHEPHERDSTOWN, West Virginia (CNN) -- On the eve of Monday's scheduled Israel-Syria peace talks, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said there is "no done deal" and additional rounds of negotiations may be needed before the two countries reach a settlement.
"We all understand how fateful the decisions are," Albright said Sunday ahead of the U.S.-sponsored talks, which will take place in a semi-secluded conference center in West Virginia.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa met last month in Washington, the highest-level meeting ever between Israel and Syria, Middle East neighbors that have fought five wars since Israel's inception half a century ago.
Foremost among the topics when the two officials resume talks Monday will be the Golan Heights. Syria has demanded a full Israeli withdrawal from the strategically important plateau since it was captured in the 1967 Mideast war.
Barak has implied, but not explicitly stated, his willingness to hand over almost all of the Golan and to dismantle Israeli settlements there in exchange for security and normalization with Syria.
Barak: 'These will be tough talks'
"I have no doubt these will be tough talks," Barak cautioned Sunday before flying to North America. "Agreements come at a price, but you don't make one at any price."
But the Israeli prime minister nonetheless sounded determined to advance peace prospects with Syria.
"We don't need to wait for another millennium, another century, or even another 10 years to find a way to make peace with our neighbors," he told reporters.
Barak must find Syrian concessions that will make the return of the Golan palatable to Israelis, or change Syria's determination that there can be no compromise on the issue.
"Israel's full withdrawal from the Golan to the June 4, 1967, lines is a settled issue. It is not a matter for bargaining or negotiation," one Syrian official said.
But that official said the issues of "water, security arrangements, the future peaceful ties and a timetable to achieve this" were open to discussion.
Earlier talks considered demilitarized zones
Syria contends that the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin agreed during lower-level peace talks that stalled in 1996 to return the Golan, a water-rich region that overlooks the upper Jordan River valley.
In those discussions, Syrian and Israeli military leaders sketched out demilitarized zones on either side of a still- undetermined border.
Israel has expressed a willingness to return to the 1923 borders between Syria and what was then Palestine. The older borders grant Israel several square miles of territory it says Syria encroached upon between that date and 1967. Israel was created in 1948.
Support for Barak's position is shaky within his coalition government -- some of his ministers oppose returning any of the Golan to Syria.
Barak likely will talk about the other issues before addressing the return of the territory. He promised Sunday that he would sign no agreement that did not enhance Israel's security and bring it greater prosperity. He has promised to bring any peace agreement to a vote in a national referendum.
Clinton to attend first day of talks
Underscoring the importance of the negotiations, U.S. President Bill Clinton will preside over the opening talks Monday, which will take place in a secluded conference center 70 miles outside Washington.
Albright, who will participate in the discussions, predicted "a very difficult set of negotiations."
Clinton, who will be available to help resolve disputes this week, has made Mideast peace a top international policy goal for 2000.
Correspondents Jerrold Kessel, Walter Rodgers, John King and Ralph Begleiter contributed to this report.
Barak leaves for Israeli-Syrian peace talks in U.S.
Knesset - The Israeli Parliament
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