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U.S. Department of State
96/02/06 Press Briefing after meeting with Syrian President Asad
Office of the Spokesman

                            U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE 
                             Office of the Spokesman 
                               (Damascus, Syria) 
For Immediate Release                               February 6, 1996 
                           ON THE RECORD BRIEFING BY 
                            Sheraton Hotel, Damascus 
                                 February 6, 1996 
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Good evening.  In the last two days, I have had 
good discussions with President Asad and Prime Minister Peres in which 
we reviewed the progress made at the talks at the Wye Conference Center 
in Maryland.  Both the leaders agreed that headway has been made in the 
talks and that they should continue.  To that end, the talks will resume 
in Maryland on the 26th of February in the same format as before.  The 
decision of the two leaders to go forward, whatever the timing of the 
Israeli election, reflects three important realities:  First, both 
parties are committed to peace and to the continuity of the negotiating 
Second, the decision to continue the talks reflects the belief of the 
parties that real progress was made in the talks in Maryland.  On 
several issues, the positions of the Israelis and the Syrians are 
beginning to converge.  It is my judgment that these talks in Maryland 
can provide the framework for an ultimate peace agreement. 
Third, the decision to continue the talks reflects the commitment of the 
parties to the goal of achieving a peace agreement in 1996.  Obviously, 
there is a great deal that remains to be done, but there is a strong 
determination on behalf of the parties to work for peace, security, and 
prosperity in the Middle East. 
The United States is committed to continuing to play a leadership role 
in assisting the parties to achieve the goal of a peace agreement this 
I would be delighted to take some questions: 
QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, what reason might you have to expect that the 
next round will be different from the previous rounds? 
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  Well, in the previous rounds both parties 
thought real progress was made.  We expect that progress can continue to 
be made, and the fact that the parties have committed to continue the 
process, whatever the timing of the election in Israel, reflects, I 
think, their determination to try to pursue the goal of a peace 
agreement this year. 
QUESTION:  If in the last round, they devoted most of their time to 
security issues, and a framework for peace has to involve territory and 
peace terms, I, personally, can not make the jump in my mind between 
your hopeful remark that "this could be the framework for a peace 
treaty" when they are not even near agreement on the key issues. 
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  They have been discussing a whole range of 
issues.  They have met for 12 days at the conference center in Maryland.  
The estimate is that they have made good progress in those 12 days.  The 
last several days were on the security arrangements, which are probably 
the toughest issues of all.  There are very difficult issues ahead but, 
nevertheless, across the board, the parties are making progress. 
QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, will there be an expansion either of the 
number of delegates to the talks, or the range of issues?  And secondly, 
did President Asad indicate any disappointment that the elections might 
be now in Israel rather than later? 
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  The parties will continue in the same format as 
before, but there is no limitation on the issues.  They will continue to 
discuss, initially, the security issues but they may well be discussing 
other issues.  In our meetings today, President Sad expressed no views 
with respect to how the Israelis are to make their decision, obviously 
it is an Israeli decision, about the timing of their elections. 
QUESTION:  But no new delegates, no expansion in the number of experts 
that might be present at the talks? 
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  All I can say is what I said before, that in the 
round of talks that will begin at the end of February the parties will 
continue in the same format, with more or less the same personnel as 
QUESTION:  Did you here any of the negativity from either the President 
or the Foreign Minister that has been reflected in Syrian press--the 
official Syrian press--of late, after a spate of more moderate sort of 
comment about the peace process? 
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  I think their attitude is best reflected by 
their desire to continue the talks.  They feel committed enough to the 
peace process so that they want to ensure the continuity of the talks, 
whatever the date of the election in Israel, and I think that is the 
best reflection of the way they feel about the talks.  They feel that 
headway was made in the talks and they want them to continue. 
QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, did President Asad readily say to you "Yes, I 
heard your message in Jerusalem.  We think things should go forward, 
regardless of what happens in Israel."  Or did you really wrestle him to 
the ground and convince him that this was important? 
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  The proposal for a continuation of the talks was 
a United States proposal, to which both parties agreed.  If you want the 
chapter and verse of it, we discussed it for about three and a half 
hours in the context of substantive discussions today.  President Asad 
wanted to reflect on the matter.  When  Mr. Shara' came to have dinner 
with me, he brought President Asad's decision to continue in the present 
format in accordance with the suggestion we made. 
QUESTION:  The last time you announced the continuation of the talks, 
you were very specific on what days they would meet, how long they would 
meet, when they would break, when they would come back.  Do you have a 
similar specificity today or is that left to be worked out? 
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  I think they will meet in more or less the same 
format, probably for about a week in all.  They have been going long 
enough so that I think they have broken out of the rigidity of the 
initial plan for the talks.  I would expect this round will be about the 
same as the prior round. 
QUESTION:  Do you plan on returning to the region after that? the next 
round of talks? 
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  You know, I will be participating in those 
talks.  I am always available to come back to the region if it will be 
useful to the parties.  But let us take this one step at time.  These 
are very difficult, important talks. We will be starting this next round 
at the end of February.  I will be following this very closely and we 
will decide how best to move the process forward in accordance with the 
work of the parties. 
QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, if you think that these talks can provide the 
framework for an eventual peace agreement, why can't you try to lock in 
some of the progress with the public announcement, similar to the kind 
of announcements that were made during the Dayton Process? 
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  There are differences between the processes.  
Here you have a very complex set of negotiations but the issues are very 
closely inter-linked.  In Dayton, we were able, for example, to announce 
the Eastern Slavonia agreement, which was really quite separate.  At 
Dayton, we were able to announce a Federation agreement, which is quite 
separate.  Here, you have a set of very complex but completely inter-
linked negotiations -- inter-linked in terms of timeline, and inter-
linked in terms of relationship of one issue to another.  So, 
regrettably, and I know this is frustrating for all of you, the issues 
are so inter-related, there are so many potential tradeoffs between the 
issues themselves, that it is unlikely that until the parties come in to 
an overall agreement that we will be able to announce any partial 
agreements.  I know that's frustrating for you, but the parties 
obviously feel that they are making progress and they want to preserve a 
continuity of the negotiations, whatever the election calendar. 
Thank you very much. 
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