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Washington correspondent Richard Lister
"Playing down the setback"
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Wednesday, 19 January, 2000, 01:01 GMT
US struggles to sustain peace process

Golan Heights Golan Heights: Future in doubt

President Bill Clinton has been making fresh efforts to break the deadlock in the Israeli-Syria peace talks.

The president had lengthy telephone conversations with both Syrian President Hafeez al-Assad and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, to try to get them back to the negotiating table.

We have always known that this was a difficult process involving complicated issues and no one ever expected things to run like clockwork.
Joe Lockhart
White House spokesman
His Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, also spoke with the Middle East leaders as the US looked for a way to resurrect the talks.

No details of the conversations have been disclosed, but in public Mrs Albright played down the suspension of talks, which were due to start on Wednesday.

A BBC correspondent in Washington says the Clinton administration is working furiously to try to prevent the process from collapsing altogether.

The peace talks were postponed indefinitely over land for security wrangles.

Syria places blame

Syria's ruling National Progressive Front has blamed Israel for the deadlock, saying peace talks can only move forward if it accepts withdrawing from the Golan Heights.

Mrs Albright said: "We knew all along that these were going to be very difficult negotiations.
Middle East

"If they were easy, they would have been resolved a long time ago. The leaders of both countries have painful decisions that have to be made."

She said Israel and Syria both wanted their concerns discussed first.

"There is a delay because each country has a different approach to how it wants its major problems dealt with," she said.

"And, as might be expected, each one wants to have its needs decided first. What we are trying to do is to develop some simultaneity and try to move the whole package forward."

Mrs Albright added that both sides wanted peace but she could give no indication of when talks would resume.

Golan Heights key

Syria is demanding the return of the Golan Heights while Israel is insisting that it must first have certain security guarantees if it is to surrender the strategic land.

The US is trying to introduce twin-track negotiations to tackle both areas of concern.

Although discussions between senior Syrians and Israelis, including Prime Minister Ehud Barak, will not take place on Wednesday, lower level officials from both countries have been sent to Washington.

They are to work through the text of a US document setting out the requirements for a deal and to look at ways of reducing the differences between the two countries.

The document was first presented to Mr Barak and Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa during negotiations in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, earlier this month.

Those negotiations came close to breaking down on a number of occasions, but were kept on track by the repeated intervention of Mr Clinton.

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See also:
17 Jan 00 |  Middle East
Syria talks on hold
18 Jan 00 |  Middle East
Barak turns to Palestinians
11 Jan 00 |  Middle East
Analysis: The 'roadmap' to peace
11 Jan 00 |  Middle East
Israelis protest as talks end
05 Jan 00 |  Middle East
Analysis: Land, arms and security

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