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The BBC's Hilary Anderson
"Syrians feeling that the Americans are on the Israeli side"
 real 28k

Monday, 20 March, 2000, 11:17 GMT
Clinton to meet Syrian president
Bill Clinton and Hafez al-Assad
Clinton and Assad last met in Geneva in 1994
President Bill Clinton has announced that he will meet the Syrian President, Hafez al-Assad, in Geneva at the end of his South Asia tour, to discuss the stalled Middle East peace process.

I don't want to unduly raise expectations, but I think that this is an appropriate thing for me to do to try to get this back on track
Bill Clinton
"When I conclude my visit in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan I do intend to go to Switzerland to meet with President Assad and we'll just have to see what comes out of the talks," Mr Clinton said in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka.

There has been no official Syrian comment on the meeting.

Waiting for a breakthrough

Rumours had been circulating for more than a week about such a meeting.

Though Mr Clinton gave nothing away, some kind of breakthrough in stalled Israeli-Syrian negotiations is expected.

Barak, Clinton and Sharaa at talks in January
Barak, Clinton and Syrian Foreign Minster Sharaa at talks in January
There have been reports, in the Israeli and Arab press, of secret meetings between "technical groups" from both sides.

Negotiations between Syria and Israel have been frozen since early January, despite American attempts to bring the two sides together. Syria has been demanding that Israel commit itself to withdrawing from the Golan Heights before talks resume.

Getting back on track

The US president said he hoped to get the Syria-Israeli peace process "back on track."

"I don't want to unduly raise expectations, but I think that this is an appropriate thing for me to do to try to get this back on track so that our objective of having a comprehensive peace can go forward," Mr Clinton said.

Geneva was the location for the last meeting between Presidents Assad and Clinton in 1994.

Stalled talks

Late last year, Israel and Syria resumed direct and official peace talks after a four-year freeze. A round of US-sponsored negotiations in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, in January ended with the two sides disagreeing on which issues to address first.

Syria has wanted the talks to concentrate first on the shape of an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, seized during the 1967. Israel wanted the security details that would go with any peace deal at the top of the agenda.

President Assad himself has so far stayed away from face-to-face negotiations, instead sending Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq al-Shara to negotiate with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak in Shepherdstown.

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See also:

16 Mar 00 | Middle East
Syria: Peace talks to resume soon
10 Jan 00 | Middle East
Washington's push for peace
09 Jan 00 | Media reports
Peace talks media review
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Peace talkers study key paper
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03 Jan 00 | Middle East
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The Golan: Territory and security
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