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Special Event

Millennium 2000: Israel's Barak, Syria's al-Sharaa Gather in West Virginia for Next Phase of Peace Talks

Aired January 3, 2000 - 9:01 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We begin with our top story: the latest round of Mideast peace talks due to begin later this morning in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Israeli and Syrian negotiators look to reach agreements on several key issues, including the future of the Golan Heights.

CNN's Walter Rodgers is following the talks. He joins us now from Shepherdstown with the latest -- Walter.

WALTER RODGERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Daryn.

President Clinton is due here in Shepherdstown in just under three hours, now. In his last year in the White House, he hopes to cap his presidency with a peace agreement between Syria and Israel, something that has eluded his more-recent predecessors. Mr. Clinton has called together the prime minister of Israel, Ehud Barak, and the foreign minister of Syria, Farouk al-Sharaa. He wants to get them together for a second round of peace talks here in this remote West Virginia town.

Prime Minister Barak was the first to arrive, last night. That is at Andrews Air Force Base. Mr. Barak -- for Mr. Barak, a peace agreement with Syria could make or break his political career. If he gets a peace agreement but cannot persuade the Israeli people to support him and give back the Golan Heights, Mr. Barak would almost certainly be a lame-duck prime minister.

The Syrians arrived in the United States early. They have stringently observed the gag rule imposed by the White House: No one is to discuss the peace negotiations publicly, the risk being a misstatement could so irritate one side or the other that the talks might collapse.

There are persistent reports that -- from both sides that an agreement is 80 percent complete at this point. There is a caveat in all this: that is, that in Middle East peace negotiations, nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to. So, even if they are 80 percent of the way there, nothing is agreed to until that last 20 percent is spanned as well, and there are very difficult negotiations that lie ahead. At best, no one is predicting an agreement before this summer.

I'm Walter Rodgers, CNN, live in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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