Little Progress on Peace with Syria As Christopher Wraps Up Sixth Shuttle

U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher appeared to make little progress in his attempt to break the impasse in Israeli-Syrian peace negotiations this week.

“I don’t as yet clearly see a considerable improvement in positions,” Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin told reporters after meeting with Christopher on Wednesday. “We need to see an easing in media hype before we can get to technical matters and substantial ones.”

Christopher, making his sixth round of regional shuttle diplomacy this year, arrived in Israel on Tuesday following some four hours of talks with Assad in Damascus the day before.

Israeli-Syrian negotiations have been deadlocked for months over a demand from Damascus that Israel withdraw completely from the Golan Heights. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin has spoken of a partial Israeli withdrawal, but first wants Damascus to spell out the type of peace it would establish in return.

Israel and Syria appeared to agree on only one thing this week: to ease the heated rhetoric against each other that has marked the two leaders’ recent public statements.

Rabin said both Israel and Syria will refrain from making “bombastic” public statements which are serving only to block progress in the U.S. – brokered negotiations.

Christopher tried to put a positive spin on his mission.

“I feel that there are real opportunities to reach a peace agreement between Israel and Syria,” he said. “What I can say is that there’s a great seriousness of purpose on the part of both parties, the Syrians as well as the Israelis.”

After meeting with Rabin, Christopher traveled on to the Gaza Strip to see Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat, where their talks focused on the financial aid Arafat is seeking for his cash-strapped Palestinian Authority.

They also reportedly discussed security issues in light of the growing number of terror attacks against Israelis by the Islamic fundamentalist Hamas movement.

Earlier this week, Christopher referred to the issue of security as the main obstacle to an Israeli-Palestinian peace.

The Christopher-Arafat accord came as Israeli and Palestinian negotiators wrapped up two days of talks in Cairo. The Cairo talks focused on implementation of the next stage of self-rule. No significant progress was reported.

In a news conference after his meeting with Christopher, Arafat said Israel and the Palestinians must continue implementing the next phase of the self-rule accord, which centers on an Israeli withdrawal of army troops from the West Bank on the holding of Palestinian elections.

Arafat also addressed Israeli security concerns.

“We are looking to have very quickly the election, but at the same time, we are keeping in our concentration the needs of security for the Israelis and we are ready to discuss it,” Arafat said.

Christopher tried to dispel rumors that Rabin has been trying to delay implementation of the next phase of the self-rule accord, saying that Rabin had given him assurances that he is committed to the accord.

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