- The Washington Times - Monday, January 10, 2000

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. Syrian and Israeli peace teams wound up a week of top-level talks yesterday by handing President Clinton separate annotated versions of a U.S.- prepared draft peace accord, sources told The Washington Times.

No accords have been reached in six days of talks in rural West Virginia but Mr. Clinton scored a diplomatic victory of sorts last night when he brought Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Sharaa together for a meal.

Mr. Clinton, who had intervened in the negotiations four times before yesterday, met with Mr. Barak and then held a three-way meeting with Mr. Barak and Mr. Sharaa before dinner.

"This is an ongoing process," White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said. "The issues are difficult. The differences are complex."

"I think the president believes it's important to bring the leaders together in a number of different settings to try to bridge their differences and this is part of that process."

Mr. Barak, who earlier in the day described the talks over territory, peace terms, water and security as complex and difficult, planned to depart for home today.

Diplomatic sources said Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Sharaa was likely to follow tomorrow.

The Israeli foreign minister, David Levy, left yesterday for Morocco and a meeting there with King Mohammed VI.

The exact contents of the demands laid out in the annotated peace drafts remained secret but a Syrian official, speaking on the condition of anonymity from inside the talks, said the documents were "an important sign of progress."

Asked if he would confirm reports in Al Hayat newspaper from London that Syria was softening its demands for a return of all of the Golan Heights, the Syrian source laughed.

Israel is balking at returning a 33-foot-wide strip that would deny Syria direct access to the Sea of Galilee, Israel's main source of fresh water.

"That is going too far to talk about flexibility," said the Syrian official.

"Before talking about the final 10 meters, tell me if the Israelis have already agreed to the Syrian point of view that the borderline is that of June 4," where it stood in 1967 days before Israel seized the Golan Heights.

The peace draft presented Friday by the United States is a seven-page document, which is a summary of points of accord and discord. State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said the document could provide the basis for an eventual "core agreement."

Four bargaining committees, set up to negotiate specific details of borders, security, diplomatic relations and water rights, will remain, seeking to move the talks forward before the delegation leaders return in a week or two.

On Saturday, Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright took Mr. Sharaa to visit Harpers Ferry, site of a failed slave revolt that helped spark the Civil War, and to her farm in nearby Hillsboro, Va., for tea.

Yesterday, she took Mr. Barak to visit the Antietam Battlefield site in Sharpsburg, Md., and then to Harpers Ferry and her farm for lunch.

The wounded from the Antietam battle, in which 22,700 Confederate and Union troops were killed or injured in the bloodiest day of the Civil War, were brought to Shepherdstown, which became a protected hospital zone.

That peaceful past has in part played a role in setting the tone for the peace talks here in this town of 1,700 residents and 4,500 college students where many pre-Civil War houses remain intact.

But relations between the two delegations remained distant.

"This isn't warm and fuzzy, but it is warming," Mr. Rubin said. Syrian reporters refuse to speak to Israeli reporters in a sign of the continuing state of war between their two countries.

Asked if there has been any progress in the past six days of meetings, Mr. Rubin said: "By tabling a working document, by having a number of meetings of all the relevant committees, we have been able to develop a work pace that allows us to hold out hope that a core agreement can be reached."

In his first public remarks since the talks began a week ago, Mr. Barak said "the negotiation is very complex."

The prime minister, speaking Hebrew, also gave assurances to the Israeli public that "we will not sign an agreement unless, in our opinion, it will strengthen the security of Israel and address its vital needs."

In Jerusalem, Israeli Cabinet Minister Haim Ramon, who said he spoke with Mr. Barak late Saturday, said Syria had refused to permit Israel to retain an early warning station on the Golan Heights once it is relinquished.

But, Mr. Ramon said, Syria was prepared to consider a station manned mostly by American and French personnel, with a Syrian presence and a symbolic Israeli presence.

Yielding the plateau would strip Israel of a capability to watch any Syrian military preparations, including tanks rolling down toward the border.

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