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Special Event

Millennium 2000: Water, Security, Normalized Relations, Golan Heights to Take Center Stage in Israel-Syria Peace Talks

Aired January 3, 2000 - 11:01 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: They could literally reshape the map and the political landscape of the Mideast. Negotiators for Israel and Syria meet in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. It's a new round of land-for-security talks that gets under way, this afternoon, and President Clinton is due to arrives within the hour.

Our senior White House correspondent John King reports on what's at stake -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Daryn, about 90 minutes from now the president, Bill Clinton, will try to get these talks off to an upbeat start, taking a walk in the woods with the Israeli prime minister and the Syrian foreign minister. This a continuation of discussions that began over two days, last month, at the White House, those talks back at the White House designed just so the Israelis and the Syrians would voice their commitment to peace. The discussions here now in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, deciding to put that commitment to the test as they get into the very difficult issues that have divided Israel and Syria for some 50 years now.

Among those issues: water, first and foremost. Water is a precious commodity, much like land in the Middle East. Israel desperately needs drinking-water supplies. That's one of the big issues as it discusses the peace agreement, a potential peace agreement with Syria. Also, atop of the Israeli security list is security concerns. The Israelis looking for firm commitments from the Syrians on troops reductions along the borders, and also the troops would be pulled back from the border areas, any border as they are negotiated, so that the situation is less tense. Israel also seeking normalized relations with Syria. That would mean a firm commitment, each state recognizes the other, and they would open embassies in their capitals.

And the most controversial issues of all, as these negotiations get under way, the fate of the Golan Heights. Israel seized the Golan Heights in the 1967 war with Syria. Prime Minister Barak has committed to giving much of that land back, but he has not said specifically how much he will give up. Syria wants to go back to a 1967 borders with borders that existed just before Israel launched the war of 1967 and seized the Golan Heights. What Israel pushing forward told to look for a much earlier border back in 1923, an international border, a distinction of only a matter of feet or yards in some places, but critical because if Israel got the 1923 border, it would have guaranteed access to water, again that one of the key negotiating points here.

These talks to go on for at least a week, here. Whether they go on any longer will depend on whether progress is being made.

John King, CNN, reporting live from Shepherdstown, West Virginia.

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