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Clinton and Assad end Geneva summit

President Clinton and the Syrian leader, Hafez al-Assad, have ended their summit in Geneva, devoted to efforts to restart the stalled Israeli-Syrian peace talks. There has so far been no word on the outcome of the talks.

This content was published on March 26, 2000 - 20:53

President Clinton and the Syrian leader, Hafez al-Assad, have ended their summit in Geneva, devoted to efforts to restart the stalled Israeli-Syrian peace talks. There has so far been no word on the outcome of the talks, but a joint statement is expected shortly.

The two leaders met for a total of five hours of talks under tight security at Geneva's Intercontinental Hotel. Also present were the Syrian foreign minister, Farouq al-Shara and the American secretary of state, Madeleine Albright.

Ahead of the meeting, all sides were playing down hopes of a breakthrough. The United States national security adviser, Sandy Berger, said it was unlikely that the two leaders would announce an immediate renewal of the negotiations, which have been stalled since January.

He said he expected Assad would return to Damascus for consultations, and that Clinton would talk to the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak.

A government-run newspaper in Syria said the outcome of the summit was hard to call, and in Israel, Barak told his cabinet the chances of rescuing the peace talks were no better than 50 per cent.

Hopes were nevertheless high, partly because of Assad's presence. The ailing 69 year-old president rarely travels, and has become personally involved in the peace process for the first time since the Israeli-Syrian talks resumed last year, after a four year break.

The talks broke off in January after Syria demanded that Israel commit itself to returning the entire Golan Heights before other issues could be discussed. But despite the official deadlock, there has been growing evidence that talks are continuing behind the scenes, and that a deal could be close.

Switzerland has emphasised that it is willing to host further summit meetings, and there are indications that Clinton and Assad may have been discussing preparations for another meeting in Geneva, perhaps also attended by Israel and Lebanon, in a matter of weeks.

Berger said one of the main challenge was to increase confidence between Israel and Syria, so that both sides are prepared to compromise to secure a peace deal.

"They both have to compromise but they both have to believe that they are stronger and better positioned as a result of reaching a peace agreement," he said.

swissinfo with agencies

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