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Special Event

Millennium 2000: Second-Round of High-Level Israeli-Syrian Peace Negotiations Under Way

Aired January 3, 2000 - 1:04 p.m. ET

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

JONATHAN MANN, CNN ANCHOR: The second-round of high-level Israeli-Syrian peace negotiations is getting under way. It's being held not far from Washington in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Israel's prime minister, Syria's foreign minister and their aides are talking about details which could lead the Israelis to return the Golan Heights to Syria in exchange for new security guarantees for Israel.

This hour, President Clinton is in West Virginia for the first of the meetings. CNN White House correspondent John King is covering the negotiations and joins us now from Shepherdstown. John?

JOHN KING, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Jonathan, U.S. officials hoping the peaceful setting here in secluded Shepherdstown, West Virginia will help the Israeli and the Syrian delegations overcome some 50 years of hostility. As you mentioned, President Clinton on hand to open these discussions here today. He arrived a short time ago. He will take a walk in the woods with the leaders, then meet individually with the leader of Israel and the leader of the Syrian delegations before the negotiations formally get under way.

This a follow-up on two days of talks Last month at the White House, those talks largely just to make sure each side was serious in its commitment to negotiating peace. Now, here in West Virginia, the Syrians and Israelis will get down to the nitty-gritty of the issues that have divided them now for some 50 years.

Let's take a look at some those. Of course, one is water, perhaps the most precious resource of all in the Middle East. Israel seeking in any peace agreement with Syria or any of its neighbors access to desperately needed drinking water.

Security arrangements, one of the Israeli top concerns is that once the borders are negotiated between Israel and Syria, that you also reach agreement on troop levels along those borders and just how far back from the borders those troops would be.

Another key issue, normalization of relations, that would mean opening embassies in each other's capitals and presumably down the line resuming some sort of economic relationship.

And perhaps most controversial of all, at least in the Syrian take coming in to these talks, the return of the Golan Heights. Israel seized the Golan Heights in the 1967 War. Syria says that a complete return of that territory is necessary for their to be a peace agreement. This will be one of the areas of contention here. Israel wants a little bit more land. Syria, as I said, wants the border to go back to the pre-1967 War. Israel would prefer something like it was perhaps back in 1923, when there is a matter of a only a tiny bit of land there, but according to the 1923 border of the Golan Heights, Israel would again have access to some of the key water resources in the region.

These talk scheduled to go at least through the end of this week, President Clinton will be on hand today, then he heads back to the White House, but he has cleared his schedule for much of the week so he can return to Shepherdstown, if necessary, to help broker any disputes. His secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, also taking part. And come Thursday or Friday, all the sides will get together and decide whether these talks should continue on into next week or perhaps whether a break is necessary.

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

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