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Special Event

Millennium 2000: Israeli-Syrian Talks Hit Early Snag

Aired January 3, 2000 - 10:00 p.m. ET

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

BERNARD SHAW, CNN ANCHOR: For the second time in less than a month, representatives of Israel and Syria are in the United States trying to negotiate an end to more than 50 years of hostilities. Quote, "an historic opportunity," says one U.S. official, though another warns against, quote, "unrealistically optimistic expectations."

Among the thorniest of the issues to be settled, the disposition of the strategic Golan Heights captured by Israel from Syria in 1967. These talks are taking place in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.

Our CNN Jerusalem bureau chief Walter Rogers joins us with the latest. Walt?

WALTER RODGERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Bernie. Things are not going according to plan, nor according to script here in Shepherdstown, President Clinton had hoped to arrange a meeting this evening, a trilateral meeting, himself, Syria's Foreign Minister Farouk a-Shara, and Israel's prime minister Ehud Barak.

For some reason, we're not clear what it is, the United States decided that may not be such a good idea. State Department Spokesman James Rubin said he could not report progress to this point and in point of fact, President Clinton had to meet separately with Mr. a- Shara this evening as Secretary of State Madeleine Albright met separately with Mr. Barak.

The fear, apparently, in the United States is that the positions have hardened in these negotiations and meeting together at this point, that is a trilateral face to face meeting, just simply wasn't a good idea.

Mr. Rubin, the State Department spokesman, said that the United States has to decide what the pace and rhythm of the negotiations are, but I think the most salient point at this juncture now is State Department spokesman James Rubin saying there have been no progress this first day. They are hoping the three men will meet tomorrow, but again, nothing is firm now. Bernie?

SHAW: Apart from the hoped-for meeting tomorrow, what else is on tap?

RODGERS: Well, we've got the most difficult thing at this point, Bernie, is coming up with an agenda; that is, where do the talks resume? The Syrians have come with a very rigid position, which is simply, they want to talk about is Israel ready to withdraw from the Golan Heights? If the Syrians get that, then they're willing to go on with the negotiations.

The Israelis have a different agenda. The Israelis want to begin, they say, where the talks broke off four years ago. The Israelis want to begin by talking about their security needs and normalization of relations between Damascus and Jerusalem. The problem is, they haven't decided at this point where to begin talking and on what issues. And this appears to be a snag. But the Syrians clearly are holding very firm to their insistence there has to be a resumption, or they have to get some guarantees at the outset that Israel is going to withdraw from the Golan Heights, and that apparently is the sticking point now because the Israelis have a different agenda. Bernie?

SHAW: Walter Rodgers with the very latest from Shepherdstown, West Virginia.

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