Trilateral meeting puts Israeli-Syrian talks back on track
January 4, 2000
From staff and wire reports
SHEPHERDSTOWN, West Virginia (CNN) -- Israel and Syria moved back on course for detailed talks on a peace deal Tuesday after U.S. President Bill Clinton helped engineer what U.S. officials called a very productive face-to-face meeting.
U.S. State Department spokesman James P. Rubin called Tuesday's one-hour trilateral 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."
In an ice-breaking gesture Tuesday, Clinton later gave an informal reception at a hotel for the top six members of the Israeli and Syrian delegations, U.S. officials said.
Israel and Syria, after 50 years of conflict, had disagreed over how to begin to talk peace, with Barak insisting on security discussions and Sharaa seeking to put the focus on withdrawal from the Golan Heights, captured by Israel in 1967.
U.S. may pay billions for peace
Clinton dangled a carrot Tuesday, indicating the United States would be willing to put up what could amount to billions of dollars to secure the peace.
"I think there will be some cost associated with the security rearrangements," he said. "And then obviously, over the long run ... we need to make a contribution, as do our friends in Europe and hopefully some in Asia, to the long-term development of the regional Middle East economy."
Press reports in Israeli newspapers cited $17 billion as the figure Israel was seeking to agree to withdraw from the Golan. Clinton administration officials would neither confirm nor deny the $17 billion figure but also would not name another figure. The money is said to be for military assistance the Israelis want to ensure their security after leaving the Golan.
Small protest in Shepherdstown
A small group of Israelis and Americans protested outside the Shepherdstown facility Tuesday, urging Israel not to give up any of the Golan.
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.
The deliberations are to focus on borders -- the extent of an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan -- security arrangements, normalization of relations, and water resources, sources close to the negotiations said.
Israeli officials said the committees on security arrangements and normalization would meet first and discussions would follow later in the week on water and borders.
"They have a work plan and an organizational structure," Rubin told reporters.
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. One group wants peace ahead of anything else, while the other -- mostly Israeli settlers in the Golan -- believes the loss of their homes is too much to give up.
Correspondents Andrea Koppel, Walter Rodgers and Jerrold Kessel and Reuters contributed to this report.
Three-way Mideast talks cancelled; meetings resume Tuesday
Ministry of Information Syrian Arab Republic
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