Syria and Israel to Resume Long-stalled Military Talks

The on-again off-again Israel-Syria peace negotiations are on once again. Senior military experts from Israel and Syria will return to Washington before the end of June to try to work out security arrangements to facilitate a return of the strategic Golan Heights, according to the State Department.

Israel and Syria agreed to broad terms of reference that will serve as an agenda for the upcoming talks, Secretary of State Warren Christopher said Wednesday.

Negotiations have stalled in recent months. Syria has been demanding a return of all of the Golan Heights while Israel has conditioned any pullback on the nature of a future peace and the nature of security arrangements.

The Israeli and Syrian military chiefs of staff met last December, but talks broke off when Syria demanded symmetry in any security arrangements.

“This is an important development, but there still are significant gaps between the parties, and there is much hard work to be done on the security arrangements and on all the non-security issues,” Secretary of State Warren Christopher said in a statement read to reporters at the State Department.

In Tel Aviv, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin Welcomed the announcement, but agreed that there was still a long way to go.

“I believe it is a continuation of the negotiations,” Rabin told reporters. “It is a breakthrough in the procedure, but not in the substance.”

The State Department released no details about the agreement. But officials said it was reached after months of negotiations at the highest levels of the Israeli and Syrian governments.

Itamar Rabinovich, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, called the agreement “a positive and important development.” Rabinovich has met periodically over the last six months with his Syrian counterpart, Ambassador Walid Muallem.

Rabinovich, who serves as Israel’s chief negotiator with the Syrians, cautioned that “the discussion and the negotiations about the actual security arrangements are still ahead of us.”

Rabinovich praised Christopher and Middle East peace team for “their effort and devotion in helping Israel and Syria.”

Christopher said Dennis Ross, the U.S. special Middle East coordinator, would visit the region next week, at which time he will focus on Israeli-Syrian relations.

The secretary of state also said he would tour the region soon afterward, before the talks are scheduled to resume in Washington. Christopher had earlier said that he would not travel to the region unless some progress had been made.

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