Millennium 2000: Israel, Syria Expected to Begin Second Round of High-Level Peace Talks TodayAired January 3, 2000 - 10:05 a.m. ET
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JIM CLANCY, CNN ANCHOR: A second round of high-level peace talks between Israel and Syria is expected to get under way about two-and-a- half hours from now.
CNN's Walter Rodgers is covering the land-for-peace talks in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. He joins us now with this update -- Walter.
WALTER RODGERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Jim.
The Syrian-Israeli peace talks could be President Clinton's last hurrah in foreign policy. True, Mr. Clinton still wants and Israeli- Palestinian peace agreement, but that could be much more difficult and much less doable than a Syrian-Israeli peace agreement.
So Mr. Clinton called Prime Minister Barak of Israel and Syria's foreign minister, Forouk al-Sharaa, to this remote West Virginia town for a second round of peace talks.
Prime Minister Barak arrived last night -- Sunday night -- in the United States, flying into Andrews Air Force Base just outside Washington, D.C. Mr. Barak has placed peace with Syria at the top of his agenda. Mr. Barak, a former army chief of staff, likes difficult challenges.
Besides the external difficulties of negotiating an end to 50 years of hot and cold wars, Mr. Barak faces surprisingly difficult opposition at home from Israelis who simply do not wish to return to Syria the land that the Israeli Army took from Damascus in the 1967 war. If Mr. Barak were to lose a public referendum on that, he could also lose office.
The Syrian delegation is keeping a low profile here, scrupulously observing the gag rule, no one discussion the peace negotiations publicly. But the Syrians have served notice that they are here to test Israel's seriousness, and they are looking for more than just a positive atmosphere.
There have been early reports that a peace agreement between Israel and Syria are about 80 percent complete, but there is a warning, a caveat here, and that is the rule of thumb that in all Middle East peace negotiations, nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to, and there's still at least 20 percent of this deal to be negotiated -- Jim.
CLANCY: Why Shepherdstown? There are other venues, such as the presidential retreat at Camp David. Why this one?
RODGERS: Easy question, Jim. First place, it is remote and that lends itself to more productive talks. News leaks would obviously put pressure on the negotiators, certainly on the domestic front in Israel, and perhaps even Damascus.
Another reason -- you mentioned Camp David -- the Syrians are very sensitive to location. They wanted the United States because they need, they believe, American pressure to make sure that the Israelis live up to an agreement. But Camp David, the presidential retreat in the Catoctin Mountains of Maryland, is a very sore point with the Syrians. They believe that when President Sadat negotiated an agreement with the Israelis, then Prime Minister Menachem Begin under President Jimmy Carter, that, in point of fact, the Arab world sold out to the Israelis in that. So the Syrians would never have gone back to Camp David because they very much oppose the Camp David Agreement in 1978 -- Jim.
CLANCY: CNN's Walter Rodgers reporting to us there live from Shepherdstown.
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