Israel, Syria close to outlining issues, timetable for peace Deal is not expected at Md. talks this week

January 03, 1996|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Israel and Syria are likely to reach an interim agreement soon that will spell out the issues to be contained in an eventual peace pact and a timetable for reaching it, U.S. and Israeli officials said yesterday.

Such an agreement would be mostly procedural, leaving the tough land-for-peace issues for further negotiations, officials said. It is likely to be reached during Secretary of State Warren Christopher's coming trip to the Middle East.

Israeli and Syrian negotiators, together with their American intermediaries, will resume informal talks today at the secluded Wye River Conference Centers near Queenstown on Maryland's Eastern Shore. The talks opened last week after a six-month deadlock between the two bitter enemies.

"We're encouraged by what we saw, and we're encouraged that everybody's coming back tomorrow," State Department spokesman Glyn Davies said yesterday. "We look forward to further progress."

Itamar Rabinovich, Israel's ambassador to Washington, said he did not expect any agreement at the three days of talks this week. Rather, he said, the talks will have the aim of producing "a constructive trip by the secretary of state." Mr. Christopher will arrive in the region next Wednesday.

A senior U.S. official said the pact would provide "a conceptual basis," listing the elements to be included in a treaty, and a timetable for further negotiations.

The key issues separating Israel and Syria are the extent of Israeli withdrawal from the strategic Golan Heights plateau, which it seized in the 1967 Middle East war, and the kind of peace the two countries would share.

Syria insists on getting back all the territory it held until June 1967. For its part, Israel wants a warmer relationship with Syria than its 16-year "cold peace" with Egypt.

Prime Minister Shimon Peres also sees a treaty with Syria as the final building block to a comprehensive regional peace between Israel and the Arab world. Persian Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia, are expected to move toward normal relations with Israel if it reaches a deal with Syria.

Related issues include the security arrangements necessary to prevent future hostilities between the two countries.

In an interview, Mr. Rabinovich said that in last week's discussions, Israel presented its vision of peace. "They're digesting it," he said of the Syrians. "I expect more exploration this week, answers next week," he said.

The final day of negotiations last week was marred by Katyusha rocket attacks from southern Lebanon against northern Israeli villages. The attacks, by the Hezbollah guerrilla group, stopped after Mr. Christopher called Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Sharaa, a U.S. official said.

Syria's state-controlled press has welcomed the latest round of negotiations with more optimistic commentary than in the past, indicating that President Hafez el Assad feels confident he will be able to reclaim the Golan Heights.

Damascus Radio said yesterday that Syria is committed to "full peace" in exchange for a total withdrawal. But it said that imposes great responsibility on Israel to accelerate the negotiations.

"Good intentions only do not make peace, if they are not accompanied by serious steps on the ground," the commentary said. The official daily Tishreen said, "As the end of 1995 witnessed the reactivation of the peace process on the Syrian track, 1996 should be the year of peace on the Syrian and Lebanese tracks." Lebanon's government is largely controlled by Syria.

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