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Special Event

Millennium 2000: Three-Way Meeting Fails to Materialize on Day One of Syrian-Israeli Talks

Aired January 4, 2000 - 2:01 a.m. ET

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

JUANITA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: The three-way meeting between U.S. President Clinton, the prime minister of Israel, and Syria's foreign minister did not take place as hoped on Monday. After about nine hours of bilateral meetings with the two leaders at a conference center in West Virginia, Mr. Clinton headed back to Washington.

U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin then told reporters: "From the way it unfolded, it would not be right for a trilateral tonight, given the lateness of the hour."

With more now on day one of the latest round of Middle East peace negotiations, CNN Jerusalem bureau chief Walter Rodgers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WALTER RODGERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Clinton took Israel's prime minister Ehud Barak, and Syria's foreign minister Farouk a-Shara for a walk in the woods, trying to create a tranquil environment for these peace negotiations. It apparently did not work. The walk was the only time the three men met face to face the first day. A scheduled three-way meeting Monday night was canceled.

An administration spokesman said the president and Secretary of State Madeline Albright decided the Israelis and Syrians were not yet ready to sit down together.

Earlier, State Department spokesman James Rubin anticipated the difficulties.

JAMES RUBIN, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: I think it's fair to say the Charles Dickens novel "Great Expectations" is not the novel that is being read by the negotiators and the working-level officials. We do not expect to be able to achieve a core agreement in one round of negotiations.

RODGERS: The first day's talks had the president meeting individually with the Israeli leader, Prime Minister Barak insisting Israel's security needs must be addressed first. Syria's Foreign Minister a-Shara's priority was quite different. The Syrians are insisting Israel must first commit to a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights, all the way back to the 1967 borders. No progress to report, said one administration official. There is much at stake here for Mr. Clinton, who hoped to cap his presidency with a Syrian/Israeli peace treaty. But this second round of talks apparently got off to a rocky start.

(on camera): All sides acknowledged a sense of urgency here, that there is a political opportunity, not to be missed. But that sense of urgency is apparently not translating into either side, making tough decisions, contrary to its national interest.

Walter Rodgers, CNN, Shepherdstown, West Virginia.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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