Syrian official: Israel-Syria talks hinge on Golan Heights withdrawal pledge
September 14, 1999
From CNN's Larry Register and Rula Amin
DAMASCUS, Syria (CNN) -- A final peace deal between Israel and Syria could be reached "quickly, perhaps within a month" -- if talks resume at the point from which they broke off in 1996, a top Syrian official told CNN Tuesday.
"It depends on the seriousness of the Americans, and how Barak responds to the American efforts" to restart the talks, said the Syrian official, who spoke on condition he not be named.
U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Syrian Foreign Minister Faroul al-Shara are scheduled to meet later this month in New York when the two attend the upcoming U.N. General Assembly annual meeting, he said.
After that meeting, the official said he expects "extensive American efforts to clarify the positions and try to bridge the gaps" now existing between Israel and Syria.
The official also said the Syrians believe significant movement will need to take place by the end of this year if there is to be a realistic chance of the Clinton administration bringing about an agreement between Israel and Syria.
The Syrians don't believe the current administration will have the political clout to push the deal forward once the 2000 presidential campaign gets under way.
Difference of opinion
The Israelis, under the new direction of Prime Minister Ehud Barak, have called on the Syrians to resume talks immediately and say they're willing to resume the talks where they ended. But the two sides have different interpretations of what had been agreed to at that point.
The Syrian official said that when talks broke off in 1996, the two sides had reached 80 percent agreement on a security arrangement based on Israel's willingness to withdraw to the borders that existed on June 4th, 1967.
The Syrians say Rabin made the commitment in a document given to then-U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher. The Israelis have not publicly acknowledged the Rabin document exists, and the Americans will not confirm or deny the existence of it.
According to the Syrians, Christopher conveyed the contents of the document to Syrian President Hafez Assad, asking Assad what he was willing to give in exchange for Rabin's pledge on the Golan.
After that meeting, negotiators from Syria and Israel held a series of intensive talks, including two meetings between the Israeli and Syrian army chiefs of staff.
While Israel has never officially said the communication by Rabin to the United States took place, it has implicitly acknowledged that it did. But the Israeli position is that Rabin was responding to a hypothetical situation.
Talks between Israel and Syria broke off in 1996 after the Israeli shelling of Lebanese civilians near a U.N. compound in Qana, Lebanon, and a series of suicide bombings in Israel by Islamic militants.
'Time for peace': Talks begin on final Mideast accord
National Information Center - Syria
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