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U.S. Downplays Expectations from Clinton Meeting with Assad

March 21, 2000
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U.S. officials are downplaying expectations that a planned meeting between President Clinton and Syrian President Hafez Assad will spell the quick resumption of Israeli-Syrian negotiations.

Indeed, Clinton himself played down the possibility when he announced Monday that he plans to meet Assad in Geneva on Sunday.

“I don’t want to unduly raise expectations, but I think that this is an appropriate thing for me to do” in order to get the Israeli-Syrian talks “back on track,” Clinton said during a news conference in Bangladesh.

Clinton’s national security adviser, Sandy Berger, echoed this sentiment, telling reporters, “I don’t expect an instant result from this meeting.

“You can’t move this thing forward without a face-to-face meeting with Assad,” said Berger.

Asked about reports that Assad is unwell, Berger said, “He’s been engaged in all of this, calling the shots.”

Berger also said Clinton plans to present his views to Assad “on how to get the process resumed,” but added that the president is “not taking a specific American proposal” to Geneva.

The meeting is scheduled to take place on Clinton’s way home from a six-day tour of South Asia.

Israel gave a cautious welcome to word of the meeting.

“We hope that the meeting will lead to a renewal of the negotiations,” Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s office said, but added that “such talks will take place only if the appropriate conditions are created.”

Barak’s office said the prime minister was in continuous contact with Clinton and that he is closely following American efforts to revive the Israeli-Syrian negotiations.

Those talks broke off in January amid Syrian demands that Israel commit itself to a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights as part of a peace deal with Damascus.

Israeli officials refused such assurances and first sought to address the issues of security and normalization, saying these discussions would help determine the scope of the withdrawal.

Israeli media reports have said in recent weeks that Barak might be willing to concede most of the Golan — close to, but not including, the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee.

Since the Israeli-Syrian talks broke off, Israel has denied any direct contacts with Damascus and said it had no information when the discussions might resume.

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