Israel, Syria begin 'difficult set' of peace talks
January 3, 2000
SHEPHERDSTOWN, West Virginia -- Negotiators from Israel and Syria, two Middle East neighbors who have been technically at war for the last half-century, gathered at a secluded conference center in West Virginia on Monday to try to hammer out a framework for a permanent peace between their countries.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa resumed peace talks after a nearly three-week break. Their first round of negotiations, held in Washington in mid-December, was "a new beginning in the effort to achieve a comprehensive peace in the Middle East," said U.S. President Bill Clinton, who will preside over Monday's talks.
U.S. officials played down prospects of a breakthrough, however, saying there is "no done deal."
"This is a huge, historic opportunity," said U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. "But because there are so many fateful decisions involved in it, I think it will be a very difficult set of negotiations." Albright said additional rounds of talks may be necessary before a settlement is reached.
In Syria, the news media, which reflect government thinking, said Damascus pins great hopes on the upcoming negotiations.
Al-Thawra newspaper said Syria heads into the talks with "open minds and a truthful desire to bring about a just and comprehensive peace."
Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy told Israel's army radio that the country would ask Syrian President Hafez Assad to join the talks to prove that he was serious about peace.
Assad rarely appears in public, even in Syria, and his trips abroad are even rarer. Al-Sharaa is a close, trusted aide and has represented Syria in previous negotiations with the Israelis.
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.
Albright: 'No done deal' as Israel, Syria prepare to meet
Knesset - The Israeli Parliament
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