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Christopher Meets with Rabin, Voices Hope on Talks with Syria

August 4, 1993
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After meeting here this week with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher expressed optimism about the possibility for progress in negotiations between Israel and Syria.

Arriving here Tuesday from Cairo, Christopher said the U.S.-brokered understanding between Israel and Syria that ended last week’s fighting in Lebanon may in turn serve as a useful springboard for progress between the two countries in the peace process.

“The fighting in Lebanon was an urgent reminder as to how urgent our task is and how real are the enemies of peace,” the secretary said.

“But it is also an indication of the fact that Israel, Lebanon and Syria are able to work together on a problem” and that similar steps must be taken “to ensure that the peace process is not derailed.”

Christopher held an hour-long private meeting with Rabin here Tuesday, in what observers see as the possible start of a shuttling effort by the secretary between Jerusalem and Damascus.

After a long day of talks in Jerusalem and an evening spent monitoring the situation in the former Yugoslav republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Christopher was scheduled to fly to Damascus on Wednesday morning. He was due back in Israel for further talks Thursday.

After the meeting with Christopher, Rabin underscored Israel’s readiness to take calculated risks for peace and to work toward compromise.

“We, for our part, are ready to make compromises, to take calculated risks to advance the cause of peace,” Rabin told reporters after his meeting with Christopher.

Israel and Syria have been in a virtual holding pattern in their direct negotiations. Damascus has been demanding full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights. Jerusalem, in turn, has been seeking clarification of the “full peace” Damascus is offering in return for the Golan.

But the Rabin government’s recently declared readiness to apply U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 — the basis of the land-for-peace formula — to the Golan Heights has fueled optimism on both sides that a deal is possible.


Following the Lebanon flare-up, some Middle East observers suggested that a pacification of Israel’s entire northern front, including the Golan Heights and the border with Lebanon, is now possible.

It was reported this week that Syrian President Hafez Assad turned down the idea of a face-to-face meeting with Rabin recently. Instead, he encouraged Christopher to come to the region and shuttle between Syria and Israel.

Christopher was less sanguine about the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. But he said Tuesday that his first two-hour session with the Palestinian negotiators, held at the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem, had been good.

Observers noted that the chairman of the Palestinian negotiating delegation, Haider Abdel-Shafi, had deliberately stayed away from the meeting. This was seen as a clear expression of his dissatisfaction with the American role.

Christopher, in brief comments after his meeting with the Palestinians, acknowledged that it is “a difficult time” for the Palestinian talks. They and the Israelis are deadlocked over the extent of Palestinian autonomy.

But Christopher said there are “opportunities now” and pledged to do his best to make progress. He was scheduled to meet with the Palestinians again Thursday.

Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Itamar Rabinovich, who is here for the Christopher visit, said the ball is now clearly in the Arab court.

There is no specific preference for the Israel-Syria track, said Rabinovich, who heads the Israeli team negotiating with the Syrians. If the Palestinians respond to the opportunities now available, progress could come there first, he said.

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