Israel, Syria plan for last day of top-level talks
Barak plans to return to Israel on Monday
January 9, 2000
SHEPHERDSTOWN, West Virginia (CNN) -- Israel and Syria prepared for a last full day of peace talks involving top negotiators Sunday as Prime Minister Ehud Barak planned to return to Israel on Monday.
Barring any last-minute changes, Barak will leave behind members of the Israeli delegation to continue talks with their Syrian counterparts, Israeli sources said.
They said committee group heads from both sides would meet informally Saturday evening before talks resumed Sunday at Shepherdstown, about 65 miles (104 kilometers) northwest of Washington.
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright had lunch with Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa on Saturday. The two then traveled to nearby Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, a historic tourist village. Later, they visited Albright's farm, which is located nearby.
It had been widely expected that Barak would depart the talks after seven days and that working groups would remain behind to continue the negotiations.
Since the talks convened on Monday, there have been only two face-to-face meetings between Barak and al-Sharaa -- and that took U.S. President Bill Clinton four trips to Shepherdstown to arrange. White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said Friday that Clinton might return to the talks over the weekend.
Most of the negotiating was done indirectly in separate, bilateral meetings between U.S. mediators and the two sides.
Sources: Syria will 'stay as long as it takes'
Syrian sources told CNN their side will "stay here as long as it takes." However, if Barak does leave, it's likely that al-Sharaa would depart as well.
However, U.S. officials said it had not been determined whether the negotiations would continue at Shepherdstown or move to another location after the leaders of the two delegations left.
Clinton, running out of time to produce results from the talks before the expected departure of Barak and al-Sharaa, presented a U.S. working paper to both men at a meeting on Friday.
The document, detailing areas of agreement and disagreement in talks held in the past and during the current round at Shepherdstown, is aimed at guiding negotiators onto a fast track toward agreement.
The working paper drew initial praise on Saturday from the Syrian delegation.
"The Syrian side is studying the document in a positive manner," said one Syrian source, calling it "an advanced step in the negotiating process to reach a formula on points of difference so they can be bridged."
There was no immediate word on the paper from the Israeli delegation, which observed the Jewish Sabbath with prayers in a makeshift synagogue at the West Virginia hotel where the negotiations are being held.
"This working document provides a summary of the issues to be decided and the differences between the parties," White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said Friday.
"It is designed as a procedural tool to focus the substantive discussions and to help bridge the differences that now exist," Lockhart said.
"It ... will block any retraction by any party from any agreements that might be reached," another Syrian source said about the document.
Syria has long charged that Israel reneged on a pledge to withdraw fully from the Golan Heights, captured in the 1967 Mideast War.
Israel says it never made such a promise and that the depth of the pullback will reflect the scope of security arrangements and normal relations.
Israeli source: Barak will leave peace talks Monday
Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs
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