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Israeli, Syrian Army Officers to Join in Next Round of Talks

Army officers will be part of the negotiations when Israel and Syria convene for another round of talks later this month, members of the Israeli delegation to the peace talks said this week.

The Israeli negotiating team returned here Sunday and briefed Prime Minister Shimon Peres and Foreign Minister Ehud Barak on the discussions, which were held for six days in late December and early January at a secluded site in eastern Maryland.

At the close of the U.S.-mediated talks last Friday, the three sides issued a joint statement saying that the discussions were “fruitful, constructive and practical.”

Uri Savir, director general of the Foreign Ministry, who is heading the Israeli delegation, told Israel Radio that his team was leaving the United States with the feeling that “we have a partner that wants to reach a peace deal in 1996.”

But he stressed that the sides were still far from agreement.

“There are still many gaps, and we will need much more than one round,” he said.

U.S. Middle East peace envoy Dennis Ross also was optimistic. He said more had been achieved in the six days of talks in Maryland than in the four previous years of Israeli-Syrian negotiations.

The next round of negotiations is scheduled to be held after U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher completes a round of shuttle diplomacy this week in Jerusalem and Damascus.

Christopher’s trip to the region will be aimed at establishing a framework for continuing the negotiations.

Last Friday, Christopher discussed his planned trip to the Middle East during a conference call with members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Christopher was optimistic about the negotiations, but cautioned against “too much euphoria” prior to reaching of a final agreement, according to one of the 50 participants in the call.

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