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U.S. Department of State
96/01/12 Press Conference (with President Asad of Syria)
Office of the Spokesman

                            U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE 
                            Office of the Spokesman 
                               (Damascus, Syria) 
For Immediate Release                                 January 12, 1996 
                              PRESS CONFERENCE  
                                  GIVEN BY 
                               Sheraton Hotel 
                               Damascus, Syria 
                               January 12, 1996 
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  Good evening.  I have just had an important and 
productive four hour meeting with President Asad.  In my last trip I 
said that I would come back to the region after the completion of the 
talks in Maryland, and report and discuss the talks with the two leaders 
here, and talk about next steps, and that's what I have done today.   
It is clear that the negotiations at the conference center in Maryland 
have ushered in a new phase with the negotiations between Israel and 
Syria.  They traded a new basis for genuine progress.  I will now 
summarize the results of my discussions here in Damascus today as well 
as the earlier discussions in Jerusalem: 
It is clear from my discussions in both cities that we established a new 
effective mechanism for negotiations and for accelerated progress. A 
mechanism that includes intensive direct negotiations at the conference 
center in Maryland, followed up by my visits to the region for further 
discussions with Prime Minister Peres and President Asad.  For the time 
being, that seemed a very effective mechanism for moving forward.  For 
that end both President Asad and Prime Minister Peres had agreed that 
the negotiations at the conference center in Maryland will resume on 
January 24 for a period about the same as the first negotiations at the 
conference center.  Both leaders have felt that the former atmosphere in 
which the discussions were held there in Maryland contributed to a new 
and pragmatic approach to the resolution of this problem between the two 
countries.  At the same time, the two leaders have agreed that the core 
group in the negotiations at the conference center could be expanded by 
appropriate experts as necessary to make the negotiations the most 
effective.  At the forthcoming negotiations which begin on January 24, 
the core group, the original negotiating group will be augmented by 
military experts on both sides. 
As I did before, I will be following the negotiations very closely.  I 
will probably participate in some of them, and then I am likely to 
return to the region after negotiations to review next steps with the 
two leaders here.  I said several times in the past that I will not 
publicly get into the substance of the negotiations, and I intend to 
adhere to that, because to do so would literally change the character of 
the negotiations.  However, I think that it is appropriate today to note 
that the leaders of both countries have recognized that if peace is to 
be durable between Israel and Syria, it must be comprehensive in nature.  
Both see a peace agreement between Syria and Israel as bringing an end 
to the conflict between Syria, between Israel and the Arab States.  Both 
see that an agreement between Israel and Syria will result in a widening 
of the circle of peace.  Both leaders agree that it is important for 
them as well as for the United States to marshal support for an 
agreement, the one that has been reached from within the region as well 
as beyond.  I believe that we have crossed an important threshold on 
these negotiations.  I do not want to minimize all the difficulties and 
challenges that lie ahead, for obviously there is much hard work to be 
done.  At the same time, I believe that both President Asad and Prime 
Minister Peres are determined to see that the work is completed.  The 
United States is certainly determined to assist.  President Clinton and 
I will continue to make every effort to try to achieve an agreement 
between the parties before the end of the year. 
I will now take a few questions. 
QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, is Israel any closer to getting what it says 
so far has been "an unsatisfactory definition of peace"?  In other 
words, are they getting closer to getting the terms of peace spelled 
out, and is Syria any closer to what it keeps saying every day in its 
newspapers that "it needs a public announcement by Israel that it is 
committed to a full withdrawal"?  Even if you do not want to get into 
the substance of it, has there been any progress in the direction of 
those two ultimate goals? 
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  Without getting into the substance, yes there is 
progress.  The discussions have a very substantive character.  We are 
discussing the hardest issues and as I said, the parties, I think, have 
come to an understanding about the importance of comprehensiveness -- 
that is an agreement that must widen the circle of peace, will 
inevitably widen the circle of peace within the region. 
QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, what you heard today from President Asad, do 
you think it amounts to a new mandate for the negotiators?  Do they now 
have the authority to move to the level of negotiation? 
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  I am satisfied that both of the negotiators have 
the confidence of their leaders and they have a mandate that is 
consistent with the negotiating posture.  As we move sequentially 
through these steps at the conference center, later the negotiators must 
have a broader mandate to discuss new and additional issues in the same 
way.  At the same time, it is only realistic to say that, of course, the 
leaders have reserved for themselves the ultimate judgment on these 
matters.  I am satisfied that the mandate is adequate to the 
negotiations, and indeed that the two negotiators have the full 
confidence of their leaders, and have an adequate mandate. 
QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, I wanted to ask you about the timetable.  The 
Israelis have said in recent days that they stress the urgency of 
getting this done in the next few months.  Did you get any sense from 
President Asad that this is doable in the timetable that the Israelis 
have suggested? 
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  I think that both parties, and I certainly found 
it here, understand the need to accelerate, the need to intensify the 
discussions.  All parties are conscious of the timetable.  And the way 
we are working now, in fact, that we have the discussions going on at 
the conference center in Maryland, as well as appropriate trips by 
myself to the region, and the ready availability to the parties, 
indicates that these negotiations have entered a new phase with a new 
QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, the region is in need for peace nowadays.  
What do you think - Israel reached a decision to withdraw in full from 
the occupied Golan Heights, and (inaudible) that implementation of the 
U.N. resolutions 242 and 338, at the June 4, 1967 line? 
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  I am sorry.  I am going to have to disappoint 
you on that. That will take me deep into the substance of the 
negotiations.  And let me just say, that the issues of withdrawal are 
one of the four legs, as earlier defined by Mr. Rabin, and those matters 
are being discussed by the parties on a very intensive basis. 
QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, did President Asad indicate whether one of his 
military experts, General Shihabi, will be coming back, or did he make 
any specific mention of who it would be? 
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  My expectation is that the military expert in 
this round will be below the Chief of Staff level, but they will be 
senior military experts who have the confidence of their two leaders.  
Otherwise they will not be sent. 
Thank you very much. 
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