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CNN Today

President Clinton Expected to Rejoin Israel-Syria Peace Talks

Aired January 6, 2000 - 2:30 p.m. ET

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

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: President Clinton is planning to return today to the site of the Israel-Syria peace negotiations in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.

CNN's Walter Rodgers is keeping an eye on the talks. He joins us with the latest -- Walt.

WALTER RODGERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Natalie.

The Israeli and Syrian peace negotiators here are largely just marking time today. They sat idle most of the morning. They're waiting for President Clinton to return here shortly. We are now at the point where the Americans' role is so present -- so important in these peace negotiations that Mr. Clinton's presence is required almost every other day.

The four working groups -- the Syrian-Israeli four working groups did not meet today. That was apparently the decision of U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright who thought meetings of that sort would not be productive at this point. An Israeli source told CNN that the United States now, apparently, needs to reevaluate the mechanism for the talks. For example, the Syrians' prime concern here, that is the depth of an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, the committee which should have met on boarders, or which was to have met on boarders concurrently with the other committee meetings, has not met at this point. Still, the State Department spokesman, James Rubin, tried to assuage any concerns of the Syrians that their pet issues would not be addressed here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES RUBIN, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: There are a number of ways one can skin the procedural cat, all with the objective of moving us closer to a core agreement, which is what the objective of this process is. So I wouldn't assume that a committee or an informal contact or other procedural devices is the only way to move forward on issues of concern.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RODGERS: There is a risk in Middle East peace negotiation like these of taking the temperature too often. That, sometimes, can be misleading. Still, the United States has indicated that it is now drafting a working paper where both sides can put their differences down on this working paper and perhaps come up with some ways to bridge the gaps which have so far produced very little progress at this summit -- Natalie.

ALLEN: And, Walter, how long are the Syrians expected to stay at these talks?

RODGERS: Well, I think we can say fairly safely at this point that the Syrians' patience is being tested. They thought all the working groups would be meeting concurrently and that there would be no priority given to Israeli concerns. That priority does seem to have been given to the Israeli concern, at least in the first four days.

But you have to remember the Syrians believe they have a hard, firm promise from President Clinton that they will get the Golan Heights back at the end of the negotiation when there's a peace treaty. And so, at least for the time being, the Syrians are exercising considerable restraint and patience -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Walter Rodgers, covering the peace talks.

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