U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher this week elicited an agreement from Israeli and Syrian leaders to resume their peace negotiations in Washington.
Christopher, shuttling between Jerusalem and Damascus on Tuesday, said the talks, which had been suspended by Syrian President Hafez Assad in December, would resume in Washington “within the next several days.”
The talks will involve the countries’ ambassadors to the United States, Itamar Rabinovich of Israel and Walid Muallem of Syria.
The talks that had been suspended in Washington had also involved top military officials from Israel and Syria. Christopher said Tuesday that his special Middle East coordinator, Dennis Ross, will return to the region within the next two weeks for talks aimed at getting the Israeli and Syrian military chiefs of staff to join the Washington negotiations.
The agreement to resume negotiations gave an air of success to Christopher’s six-day, five-country tour of the Middle East.
Christopher said the agreement came after what he described as intensive and productive discussions in Jerusalem and Damascus on Monday and Tuesday.
“On the basis of these discussions, direct contact between Israel and Syria will be resumed,” the American secretary told a news conference Tuesday.
When Christopher met in Damascus with Assad on Monday, there was no reported breakthrough in the long-stalled Israeli-Syrian peace negotiations.
According to U.S. officials, Monday’s talks covered all aspects of the Israeli- syrian negotiations, which have been at an impasse over the extent and timing of an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights.
Christopher returned to Israel later that day, briefed Israeli leaders Tuesday on his talks with Assad and then returned to Damascus.
The agreement to resume talks came after Christopher held separate meetings with Assad and Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa.
Christopher’s visit to the Middle East — his first effort at shuttle diplomacy in the region this year — began with a visit to Egypt on March 7.
He arrived in Israel two days later to the news that Israel and the Palestinians had earlier in the day agreed to set a new target date of July 1 for completing talks on an Israeli redeployment in the West Bank.
Christopher held separate meetings over the weekend with Israeli leaders and Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat in an effort to spur on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which has been put on hold in the wake of repeated terror attacks against Israelis.
During a visit to Saudi Arabia on Sunday, Christopher secured long-promised financial help for the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority from the Persian Gulf states.
During a brief stopover in Jordan on Monday before flying on to Israel, Christopher pledged that Washington would keep its promise to write off Jordan’s entire debt to the U.S. government.
President Clinton pledged to write off the Jordanian debt before Israel and Jordan signed their historic peace treaty in October. But the House Appropriations Committee recently proposed cutting the Jordanian debt relief from $275 million to $50 million.
“All those who have a stake in Middle East peace have to support Jordan,” Christopher said at a news conference after meeting with Jordan’s King Hussein. “America’s commitment to Jordan will be fulfilled.”