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Peres Blames Syria for U.S. Decision to Postpone Round of Shuttle Diplomacy

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres is blaming Syria for this week’s decision by U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher to postpone a new round of shuttle diplomacy originally planned for later this month.

Peres said Syrian President Hafez Assad had not responded sufficiently to the diplomatic overtures of President Clinton, who visited Damascus on Oct. 27. News reports in the United Stated said Clinton was outraged by Assad’s failure to publicly condemn terrorism, which Assad reportedly promised to do during their private talks in Damascus.

He said that delaying the shuttle mission was the American message to Assad that he must do more for the peace process.

Peres told reporters Monday that Syria could have gotten back all of the Golan Heights 15 years ago if Assad had followed the lead of then-Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and signed a peace with Israel in 1979.

Negotiations have been deadlocked over Syrian demands that Israel commit itself to a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights, while Israel demands that Syria first define the nature of the peace.

Syria has so far resisted raising the level of talks, which have been held at the ambassadorial level in Washington or via U.S. intermediaries.

In related news, a delegation of Americans for Peace Now arrived in Israel following a five-day stay in Syria, where they held talks with top government officials and business leaders.

The delegation received wide coverage in the Syrian media.

Ahavia Scheindlin, the group’s development and programming director, said her delegation left with the feeling that Syria wants peace with Israel, but that its conditions for reaching an agreement have not changed.

“No one we met with really knew how far President Assad has gone in political negotiation,” she said, “but the message in every meeting was always the same: Give us back the Golan Heights, every inch, and we’ll talk about peace.”

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