Saturday, September 4, 1999 Published at 11:05 GMT 12:05 UK
World: Middle East
Albright finds Syrians cool towards Israel
Farooq al-Shaara told Madeleine Albright he was disappointed
US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has held talks in the Syrian capital Damascus with President Hafez al-Assad on how to revive Syrian-Israeli peace talks.
Syria told Mrs Albright that it would hold peace talks with Israel if it could be assured of recovering the strategic Golan Heights.
Mr al-Shara said Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak was in the mould of his late predecessor Yitzhak Rabin, who Syria says had made a commitment to give back the lost land.
Mrs Albright said negotiations with Syria should be based on the principle of "land-for-peace."
But she declined to say whether she agreed with Mr al-Shara, who told reporters at a joint news conference: "We would like to resume where we left off".
Referring to Friday's Israeli-Palestinian deal, Mrs Albright said "the light that came from yesterday's agreement should illuminate the whole region."
She described her meeting with President Assad as "useful and constructive."
Mrs Albright then flew to Lebanon for unscheduled talks with Lebanese officials on re-starting frozen peace moves with Israel.
She was the first secretary of state to land at Beirut airport since George Shultz in 1983 - an indication of improving US confidence in security in Lebanon.
Disagreement on how to start
Mr Barak and President Assad have indicated they are ready to authorise a return to the negotiating table - but they disagree on what basis the talks should resume.
The Syrians insist they had reached agreement with the former Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, before his assassination in 1995.
Mr Barak may want to follow in Mr Rabin's footsteps, but BBC regional analysist Roger Hardy says that in his dealings with President Assad he cannot afford to give up his main bargaining chip in advance.
This would, in turn, help to secure an agreement with Syria's neighbour Lebanon - and thus, as they like to put it, "complete the circle of peace".
The Syrian leader's health is causing concern. Both the Americans and the Israelis seem to feel that President Assad, 68, is better placed to strike a deal than any possible successor.