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Geneva summit fails to make progress

The United States says the differences between Israel and Syria are too great to warrant the immediate resumption of peace talks. The statement was made after a summit in Geneva between President Clinton and his Syrian counterpart, Hafez al-Assad.

This content was published on March 26, 2000 - 09:55

The United States says the differences between Israel and Syria are too great to warrant the immediate resumption of peace talks, which were broken off in January. The statement was made after a summit in Geneva between President Clinton and his Syrian counterpart, Hafez al-Assad.

The White House spokesman, Joe Lockhart, said the three hours of talks had focussed on clarifying the views of both parties.

"Significant differences remain and were not narrowed," he said. "As far as any resumption of talks is concerned, it's impossible to predict when those talks might resume. From the position of the United States, we don't believe it would be productive for those to resume now."

Lockhart said the talks addressed "very difficult and tough issues", but that no progress had been made. He said Clinton had spoken to the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, after the talks, and that the US special Middle East envoy, Dennis Ross, would travel to Israel on Monday for a fuller briefing.

For its part, Syria accused Israel of continuing to block a resumption of the talks. In a statement issued after the summit, Syria said the two leaders had discussed the "obstacles which Israel put and is still putting in front of the resumption of talks."

It said Assad had insisted that Israel must pledge to return the Golan Heights, seized in the 1967 Six-Day War, as part of any peace deal.

"President Assad affirmed the importance of launching the peace process on the Syrian track on the basis of full Israeli withdrawal to the June 4, 1967, line and the demarcation of the border on this basis," the statement added.

The Syrian statement made no reference to the other outstanding issues, including Israeli demands for guarantees on security, access to water supplies, and full normalisation of relations.

Hopes of a breakthrough had been high, because Assad rarely travels abroad and attended talks on the peace process for the first time since the negotiations resumed late last year. It was the first summit between Clinton and Assad for over six years.

There had also been growing speculation that a peace accord between Israel and Syria was imminent, despite the formal interruption of peace talks since January. The negotiations were broken off because of Syria's insistance that Israel commit itself to returning the Golan Heights.

by Malcolm Shearmur

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