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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
For Immediate Release February 6, 1996
ON THE RECORD BRIEFING BY
SECRETARY OF STATE WARREN CHRISTOPHER
AFTER HIS MEETING WITH PRESIDENT ASAD
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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