JERUSALEM (Dec. 5)
On his latest round of shuttle diplomacy, U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher held talks with Syrian President Hafez Assad in Damascus on Sunday.
The Syrians termed the visit “good,” but offered no details about the meeting.
Christopher is due to return to Israel on Tuesday, after meetings in the Jordanian capital of Amman.
Israeli officials have grumbled about the timing of the visit, which they say was based on Christopher’s schedule and which threatens to increase the deadlock in Israel’s negotiations with the Palestinians.
Israeli officials are said to have worried that Christopher’s presence would only heighten Palestinian efforts to bring in American intervention to lean on Israel.
Talks between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization have stalled over a number of issues, including Israel’s pullout from most of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho, which is scheduled for next week. That target date seems increasingly doubtful.
At the same time, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres are not eager for any developments on the Syrian front.
Meeting with Christopher on Saturday night and Sunday morning, the Israeli leaders reportedly made clear their preference for finishing the present Gaza-Jericho talks and implementing the agreement with the PLO before embarking on a separate — and if anything more painful and controversial — land for peace program with Syria.
CHRISTOPHER TO MEET WITH ARAFAT
Israeli sources said Rabin had stressed that despite his desire for a delay, Israel is seriously ready to engage Syria — provided that Damascus shows a readiness for genuine peace and normalization.
In a first working session with the prime minister, Christopher reportedly spent most of the time listening to his host’s assessments rather than advancing proposals of his own.
Israeli sources said the secretary apparently had some new ideas but was awaiting a propitious moment to put them forward.
The secretary is due to meet with PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat in Tunis later in the week.
Israel Television Channel Two reported Sunday that Rabin and Arafat have agreed to defer for two weeks the Dec. 13 deadline for concluding a Gaza-Jericho agreement. There was no official confirmation of this.
Observers had expected a delay of some kind — but believe the parties will make every effort to sign before the month — and year — end.
They say, too, that the parties are likely to arrange for some event on Dec. 13, even symbolic, denoting progress and reconciliation, to avoid the inevitably negative psychological effect if the date passes with no visible progress whatever.