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U.S. Request for Condolence Note Rebuffed by Syria’s Assad

<i> Times Staff Writer</i>

Shortly after Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination, Secretary of State Warren Christopher called Syrian President Hafez Assad.

Unlike the tricky and now deadlocked peace process between Israel and Syria for which he has made 13 shuttles, Christopher’s telephonic mission was considered straightforward and comparatively easy: He wanted to urge Assad to send a message of condolence to Rabin’s family.

The move was not without precedent. When Assad’s eldest son and political heir apparent, Basil, was killed in a car accident last year, Rabin sent the Assad family a letter of condolence.

Reciprocating, especially since Rabin was killed for his role in advancing peace, was considered by the State Department to be the kind of small confidence-building gesture essential in overcoming old enmities. Christopher wanted to be able to present a letter from the Syrian leader to Rabin’s widow when he accompanied President Clinton to Monday’s state funeral.

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“The idea was to get them to acknowledge each other’s humanness,” a well-placed U.S. official said Saturday. “It was a golden opportunity to do something meaningful despite the current stalemate in their dialogue.”

But in an indication of how far peace still has to go, the official added: “Assad stiffed us.”


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