Christopher to Join Israel-Syria Talks in Maryland

<i> From Associated Press</i>

Secretary of State Warren Christopher plans to join negotiations between Israel and Syria in an effort to spur them toward completion of a peace treaty, Clinton administration officials said Wednesday.

But as the talks reopened, State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns predicted “many, many, many difficult discussions” before the longtime adversaries find their way to a settlement--if they ever do.

Christopher will go to the negotiation site on Maryland’s Eastern Shore today. One of the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the secretary’s purpose is “just to take the temperature.” Reporters will be barred from the site.


Diplomatic sources said Christopher will join the delegations for dinner and not remain overnight.

As the delegations settled in at the Wye Plantation conference center near Queenstown, Md., on Wednesday for a three-day session, Burns announced that Christopher will make another trip to the Middle East next week. It will be his 15th journey to the region to promote Arab-Israeli accords.

“Our ultimate objective here in 1996 is to try to help Syria and Israel reach a comprehensive agreement between them that will resolve the problems that have separated them since 1948,” Burns said.

There were strong indications, though, that a breakthrough was not imminent. While Christopher is willing to conduct an open-ended shuttle between Damascus, the Syrian capital, and Jerusalem to get a peace treaty, the trip next week is expected to be brief. Also, U.S. diplomats said Syria and Israel had yet to agree on a formula to resolve their differences.

The private talks are being held under the supervision of mediator Dennis Ross, a State Department official. Occasionally, the department issues brief claims of progress but without any elaboration.

Negotiators for Israel and Syria have said that the talks are being held in a positive atmosphere but that none of the outstanding issues have been settled.


These matters include the future of the Golan Heights, strategic territory held by Israel since 1967; the prospect of peace between the two countries after three bloody wars; and ways to make the border secure.

Christopher plans to fly to Paris on Monday to attend a conference on financing Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank and boosting Palestinian economic development. He will hold meetings there with Israeli Foreign Minister Ehud Barak, Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat, Japanese Foreign Minister Yohei Kono and--if he attends the conference--Russian Foreign Minister Andrei V. Kozyrev.

Christopher will then go to Jerusalem on Wednesday and later to Damascus.