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The BBC's Barbara Plett
"The Syrians are disappointed with Washington"
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The BBC's Paul Adams in Jerusalem
A sense of mounting crisis heralds Mrs Albright's arrival
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Tuesday, 7 December, 1999, 03:26 GMT
Golan deadlock awaits Albright
Golan Heights Syria wants a complete Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights

Syria has said it will listen with an open heart when US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visits Damascus on Tuesday, but the state media is accusing Israel of blocking any chance of reviving stalled peace talks.

Middle East
BBC correspondent Barbara Plett says President Hafez al-Assad will have one message for Mrs Albright. He will insist that the United States acknowledge an alleged Israeli promise to return the whole of the Golan Heights.

He wants Washington to pressure Israel to keep this pledge.

The Syrian leader says the former Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, agreed in principle to withdraw fully from the occupied Golan and sent the message through US mediators.

But the Israelis say this was only a hypothetical offer. They want certain guarantees before consenting to leave the land and have not revealed how much they are willing to give back.

The Syrians are disappointed that Washington has so far failed to publicly endorse their claim and a dispute between Israel and the Palestinians over Jewish settlements on occupied land has further deepened their gloom.

Syrian newspapers accused Israel on Monday of taking provocative actions to prevent any revival of peace talks.

Bypass the deadlock

Western diplomats say Hafez al-Assad is concerned that Israel will try to negotiate messy interim agreements with Syria, as it is doing with the Palestinians.

They say he will not resume negotiations without very clear signs that he can get what he wants.

The Americans have been trying to bypass the deadlock by seeking common ground on issues such as security and water arrangements, but it is not clear that they will be able to forge a package deal that satisfies both sides.

Albright's only problem is not any Arab country but Israel
Syrian newspaper
Meanwhile the Al-Baath daily, organ of the ruling party, continued its attack on Israel, saying that the country's settlement-building in the occupied territories was "an attempt to affirm its occupation and its negligence of all deals and pledges which it has adopted".

"Albright starts her tour amid continued Israeli obstinancy which sheds doubts on the possibility of achieving any significant progress in the stalled peace process."

The paper said that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's policies showed he was no different to his right-wing predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu, whose three-year rule witnessed a total standstill in negotiations between the two countries.

Mrs Albright was in Saudi Arabia on Monday, the first leg of a five-day tour of the Middle East which takes in Damascus, Jerusalem and Cairo.

President Assad wants Israel to give up the Golan
"Albright knows that Syria has never been the problem, and it never will be," the state-owned Al-Thawra newspaper said on its front page.

"Albright's only problem is not any Arab country but it is Israel, and now especially Barak who is refusing to honour what previous governments have concluded."

Negotiations between Syria and Israel broke down in 1996 over the latter's refusal to adopt what Damascus says was a commitment by late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to withdraw fully from the Golan Heights.

Syria maintains it is ready to resume the talks from where they left off.

Al-Baath said Mrs Albright's tour might be the last chance to resume the negotiations before the United States becomes preoccupied with the US presidential elections.

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See also:
06 Dec 99 |  Middle East
Palestinians halt peace talks
20 Oct 98 |  Middle East
Special Report: Middle East deadlock
08 Nov 99 |  Middle East
Major hurdles for Mid-East peace

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