Clinton convenes face-to-face meetings with Israel, Syria
January 4, 2000
SHEPHERDSTOWN, West Virginia (CNN) -- U.S. President Bill Clinton brought together Israel's prime minister and the foreign minister of Syria for an hour-long face-to-face meeting aimed at setting their countries on a course toward peace.
U.S. State Department spokesman James P. Rubin called Tuesday's one hour tri-lateral session "more of a general discussion" than negotiations over hard issues. But he said Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa had "a very constructive and productive discussion that put the process clearly on track."
They "reaffirmed their commitment to the process," Rubin said, but he said Barak and al-Sharaa still apparently did not shake hands.
Clinton met for half an hour with Barak before al-Sharaa joined them.
Earlier Tuesday, Rubin said working committees had been formed and "all the issues" between the two sides would be discussed in coming days. But he declined to comment on what the sequence of those discussions would be.
A face-to-face meeting between Barak and al-Sharaa failed to materialize Monday when the two sides disagreed about where to begin their discussion.
Syria wanted to first take up the issue of the Golan Heights and Israeli withdrawal from the strategic plateau it captured from Syria during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. Israel wanted to determine how relations between the two bitter enemies can be normalized -- and how to guarantee Israel's security once the Golan has been returned to Syria -- before moving on to more specific topics.
Syria optimistic after Monday meeting
At least one Israeli Cabinet member, close to Barak, used the word "crisis" to describe the state of Monday's negotiations.
"It was agreed that first of all we will discuss on the agenda security, and then we will discuss normalization, and then borders and then water," said Chaim Ramon, the minister for the premier's office. "We insist that's what's going to be."
But officials and semi-official Syrian newspapers carried a degree of optimism in Tuesday's editions.
"Regardless of difficulties that are expected in the talks, the many obstacles that still block the political process and the big difference in both parties' views ... there is still hope that the difficulties can be overcome," wrote Al-Thawra.
Other media sources urged Barak to go beyond his oft-repeated declaration that Israel will have to pay a "painful price" for peace.
"(The Syrian negotiators') coming and outstanding success will be in persuading Barak to move beyond this vague policy to a more precise formulation for trading full peace for a full withdrawal from the Golan to the lines of June 4, 1967, and commit himself to real, genuine peace that can survive," said the English-language daily Syria Times.
All sides are maintaining a press blackout; official news from the talks comes from designated officials at designated press opportunities.
Hundreds of demonstrators took up both sides of the issue in Israel -- Barak supporters and opponents rallied in support of their positions. One group wants peace ahead of anything else, while the other -- mostly Israeli settlers in the Golan Heights -- believe the loss of their homes is too much to give up.
Correspondent Jerrold Kessel contributed to this report.
Three-way Mideast talks cancelled; meetings resume Tuesday
Ministry of Information Syrian Arab Republic
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