Christopher overcomes Mideast talks deadlock

August 06, 1993|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Jerusalem Bureau

JERUSALEM -- Warren M. Christopher's shuttle diplomacy in the Mideast has apparently restarted the peace negotiations, but they are still in first gear without a map.

The U.S. secretary of state will leave the region today with promises from the Arab and Jewish sides to work toward agreement. He helped the Syrians, Palestinians and Israelis at least to swap some position papers, breaking the deadlock.

He did not succeed in getting agreement on when -- or if -- there should be an 11th round of formal peace negotiations. Instead, it appears the negotiations may move into a new phase, with Mr. Christopher acting as a go-between to narrow the differences among the parties.

The secretary took on that role yesterday, alternating between the Palestinians and Israelis, and also reporting to Jerusalem on his talks in Syria, where he will return today. After a final discussion with Syrian President Hafez el Assad, he will leave for Italy for discussions on Bosnia.

"You have brought certain good news," said Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin after Mr. Christopher briefed him on his conversations in Damascus. But he noted, "It's only a beginning. still have a long way to go."

Mr. Christopher had said the peace process "has been salvaged and [is] back on track."

But characterizing the present stage of his mission, he said, "We have been asked by the parties to transmit messages, to serve as an intermediary, and this is simply part of that general process."

Mr. Christopher cautioned against raised hopes as a result of his decision to return to Damascus. "I had one or two matters I wanted to clarify with [Mr. Assad] and ask him to clarify," he said. "I wouldn't attach any great significance to the fact of the stop."

Israel began the formal peace talks in Madrid with the Palestinians, Syrians, Lebanese and Jordanians in October 1991. The talks have produced no agreement.

Israel's negotiations with Syria have been at a standoff over which side should first reveal its terms for a withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Golan Heights in return for a peace pact. Israel captured the heights overlooking the Sea of Galilee from Syria during the 1967 war.

Officials would not say if the message Mr. Christopher carried broke that impasse. But a hint of its importance came with the convening yesterday by Mr. Assad of his ruling central party authority in Damascus.

The authority, the central leadership of the ruling Progressive National Front, meets with Mr. Assad only when it has to discuss urgent or important policy issues, diplomats said.

Israel's negotiations with the Palestinians have been stuck over the status of East Jerusalem and Israel's refusal to define how much of the Israeli occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip would be turned over to Palestinian control in the agreement.

That standoff remained, but Palestinian negotiators yesterday did submit revisions to a joint declaration proposed in June by the United States. Previously, they had deemed the document too pro-Israel and would not reply to it.

"We carried out the instructions of our leadership, the PLO, to present Mr. Christopher with a Palestinian document," said Hanan Ashrawi, a spokeswoman for the Palestinian delegation. "It's based on a Palestinian position, Palestinian rights and Palestinian perception. It is not a document based on American perceptions."

An official of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Cairo, Nabil Shaath, told Reuters that 80 percent of the U.S. draft was rewritten.

"We are absolutely convinced the peace process will continue," Ms. Ashrawi said. "At the same time, there are different ways [to continue). . . . There was no decision . . . on how it would be structured."

Mr. Christopher said he was "pleased" to have gotten written responses to the U.S. draft.

"It's useful to have those. I think it is a reflection of seriousness of purpose," the secretary said. He rejected suggestions his trip had failed to bring the Palestinians and Israelis together.

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