In Knesset Address, Clinton Reports Change in Syria, but No Breakthrough

Fresh from his meeting with Syrian President Hafez Assad in Damascus, President Clinton told the Knesset on Thursday that he believes “something is changing” in Syria.

“Its leaders understand it is time to make peace,” Clinton said.

Clinton said “some progress” had been made in his talks with Assad. But he had no break-throughs to report.

In his warmly received address to the Israeli Parliament, Clinton also pledged that the United States would continue to stand by Israel, as it always had.

At the same time, Clinton made it clear the United States respects the will and independence of Israel in matters of its own defense and the pursuit of peace.

“Our role in war has been to help you defend yourself by yourself,” the president said “That is what you have asked. Now that you are taking risks for peace, our role is to help you to minimize the risks.”

“The survival of Israel is important not only to our interests, but to every single value we hold dear as a people,” he said.

Clinton vowed to work with Congress to maintain current levels of military and economic assistance to Israel. He also spoke of taking “concrete steps” to maintain Israel’s strategic edge and of plans for “unprecedented” Israeli access to the American high-technology market.

At the same time, Clinton said, the United States is helping to build a peace “that will bring with it the safety and security Israel deserves.”

CLINTON MENTIONS EFFORTS TO END BOYCOTT

He cautioned that such a peace must “be real, based on treaty commitments arrived at directly by the parties involved, not imposed from outside.”

Clinton talked about the efforts by the United States to end the Arab boycott and drew applause when he vowed, “We will not stop until it is completely lifted.”

He praised the courage, vision and tenacity of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres for achieving the peace agreement with Jordan signed the day before, and made mention of the self-rule accord with the Palestinians.

But he said, “We must keep going until Syria and Lebanon close the circle of states entering into peace, and the other nations of the Arab world normalize their relations with Israel.”

He said that earlier in the day in Damascus, Assad stated Syria’s readiness to “commit itself to the requirements of peace through the establishment of normal, peaceful relations with Israel.”

He said the United States has urged Assad “to speak to you (Israelis) in a language of peace you can understand. Today he began to do so.

“Of course it will take more than words,” the president added.

Clinton mentioned the victims of terror attacks, singling out the parents of the recently kidnapped and murdered Israeli soldier, Nachshon Waxman, whom he called “a son of your nation and, I proudly say, a citizen of ours.”

Waxman, whose mother is American-born, held dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship.

“We must stand against terror as strongly as we stand for peace, for without an end to terror there can be no peace,” he said.

“America was proud to walk with you” on the path to the peace agreement with Jordan, Clinton said.

At a welcoming ceremony earlier in the day at Ben-Gurion Airport, Clinton said the peace treaty signed this week between Israel and Jordan “points the way toward a goal we have sought for a long time, a comprehensive peace in the Middle East.”

President Ezer Weizman, who welcomed Clinton upon his arrival at the airport, thanked the United States for its role in Israel’s peace making efforts, both past and present.

ASSAD REITERATES READINESS TO MAKE PEACE

Referring to the day’s talks in Syria, Weiz-man said, “We appreciate what you are doing and hope you are bringing good news. If not, we have patience.”

Clinton flew from Amman to Damascus, where he and Assad met for three hours Thursday at the presidential palace. Clinton was the first American president to visit Syria since Richard Nixon did so in 1974.

At a joint news conference after his meeting with Clinton, Assad repeated Syria’s readiness to make peace. He said Syria would accept “full normal relations,” with Israel, but reiterated his demand that this must be in return for full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights.

Assad had made similar comments after meeting with Clinton in Geneva in January.

Assad’s remarks fell short of any breakthrough, but even so, Clinton said the leader’s statements had “gone beyond” previous Syrian positions. Clinton also said there had been some ideas discussed that he could not make public.

Syria remains on the State Department’s list of countries that support terrorism. The two leaders were asked by reporters if the subject had come up in their talks. Assad said it had, but that the focus of the conversation was on the peace process.

Clinton also called for any peace agreement between Israel and Syria to provide adequate security measures, an Israeli demand.

“Security for one side should not come at the expense of the other’s,” he said.

From Damascus, Clinton flew to Israel to brief Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on his meeting and to address the Knesset. What was struck from his itinerary, however, was a planned visit to Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy sites in the Old City of Jerusalem.

The trip was canceled aimd Palestinian opposition to Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert’s plans to accompany Clinton in the Old City.

The Palestinians said the presence of an Israeli official would imply American recognition of Israeli rule over eastern Jerusalem.

The vast majority of nations, including the United States, have never recognized Israel’s annexation of eastern Jerusalem. Clinton’s visit would have been the first by an American president.

Faisal Husseini, the top Palestine Liberation Organization official in Jerusalem, said that had Olmert accompanied Clinton’s entourage to the Temple Mount, the two would not have been granted access.

Instead, Hillary Rodham Clinton visited the Western Wall, accompanied by Olmert. Clinton was due to meet with Olmert later at the King David Hotel.

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