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U.S. Proposes Demilitarization of Golan Heights, Aid to Syria

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Israel is being asked by the United States to consider demilitarizing the Golan Heights and putting it under permanent U.S. or U.N. supervision.

Israeli Embassy officials on Friday confirmed news reports in Israel that the proposal was made recently by Secretary of State James Baker to Israeli Ambassador Zalman Shoval.

The ideas were not posed as a “formal question that we would need a formal answer to,” embassy spokeswoman Ruth Yaron said Friday.

State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said she was unaware of such a discussion, which apparently took place Jan. 30 during an informal meeting Baker had with Shoval.

Baker will have an opportunity to explore this idea further when he meets Thursday or Friday with Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy.

Tutwiler said Levy asked for the meeting, which will take place before the foreign minister flies to Miami to address the plenum of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council next Sunday.

In the meeting between Baker and Shoval, Baker raised a number of “possible scenarios” affecting Israeli-Syrian relations, including the demilitarization of the Golan Heights, which Israel captured during the Six-Day War of 1967.

Unlike the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which remain administered territories, the Golan was formally annexed by Israel in December 1981. Syria has insisted it be returned.

Baker also raised the possibility of extending U.S. economic aid to Syria in return for Syrian actions to “stop its state-sponsored terrorism,” Yaron said.

Shoval responded by saying “such ideas might be good ideas if they might come part and parcel of a more complete arrangement” with Syria, such as a peace treaty, Yaron said.

A State Department official explained that one step Syria could take is to completely cut off ties to terrorist groups, which would lead to its removal from the U.S. list of countries engaged in state-sponsored terrorism.

A more complicated step to become eligible to receive U.S. economic aid requires that Syria dramatically end its human rights abuses and, among other things, cease its involvement in drug trafficking, the official added.

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