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Impasse in Peace Talks With Syria May Be Helpful to Barak

Aired March 27, 2000 - 2:25 p.m. ET

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

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Syria's leader tells President Clinton he's willing to wait for years before signing a peace agreement with Israel. Even so, as CNN Jerusalem bureau chief Walter Rodgers reports, Israel remains hopeful for a more immediate solutions.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WALTER RODGERS, CNN JERUSALEM BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): U.S. Middle East peace envoy Dennis Ross arrived to deliver a detailed report to Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Barak on what went wrong during President Clinton's bid to bring back the Syrians to peace talks with Israel. Mr. Clinton hoped for a breakthrough at Sunday's summit with Syria's President Assad in Geneva. Later, in published comments, Assad said he was puzzled President Clinton had not carried anything new from the Israeli side.

The Israelis blame Syria.

YOSSI BEILIN, ISRAELI CABINET MEMBER: We now know for sure that in the next months there is no real chance to have peace between Israel and Syria.

RODGERS: Prime Minister Barak had made peace talks with Syria his top priority, but analysts suggest this impasse may help Barak, who is juggling several political hot potatoes.

GERRALD STEINBERG, POLITICAL ANALYST: It may be a good time for a breather for him to deal with his internal political issues before having to deal with the difficult external issues.

RODGERS: The Shas ultrareligious party, Mr. Barak's most powerful coalition partner, is furious because Israel's attorney general is opening a police investigation against their top rabbi. Rabbi Ovadia Iusef has been accused of incitement against a government minister at the other pole of Barak's coalition, forcing Barak to refocus more of his attentions on the home front. The political opposition was delighted because Israel gets to keep the Golan Heights and they see the prime minister as weakened.

MOSHE ARENS, LIKUD KNESSET MEMBER: It looks like even Mr. Barak cannot dictate the terms of history and specify at what time certain things will happen.

RODGERS: Still, renewed fighting north of Israel's border in Lebanon continues to command some of Mr. Barak's attention. He's committed to withdraw his army from Lebanon this summer, with or without a peace agreement with Syria, the major power broker there.

(on camera): Prime minister Barak has not given up on peace with Syria, though he says Damascus is not ready for it. So he's concentrating his peacemaking efforts now on the Palestinian track, which the Palestinians say is also stalled.

Walter Rodgers, CNN, Jerusalem.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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