Christopher: Israeli-Syrian talks stalled

JERUSALEM — After more than two hours of talks with Syrian President Hafez Assad in Damascus on Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher dashed all hopes of a short-term breakthrough in negotiations between Israel and Syria.

Christopher said after his meeting that there are still "solid differences" between the Israeli and Syrian negotiating positions.

Christopher, who was in the region to attend the Middle East and North Africa economic conference in the Jordanian capital of Amman, said he had met with Assad to get the latest Syrian position in its deadlocked peace talks with Israel.

But even before meeting with Assad, Christopher had not planned to engage in a round of shuttle diplomacy that would take him from Damascus to Jerusalem — an indication of his pessimism at this time about bringing the two sides back to the negotiating table.

Talks between Israeli and Syrian military experts broke off in June over differences on security arrangements for the Golan Heights once an agreement was reached.

Israel maintained earlier this year that it would agree to a phased withdrawal on the Golan in exchange for a full peace with Syria.

But Assad called for a full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan as a precondition for restarting negotiations.

Syria also opposed a proposal for Israel to maintain an early warning ground station on the Golan in the wake of a withdrawal, saying that it was an affront to Syrian sovereignty over the area.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, speaking to reporters at the Knesset on Monday, said the talks with Syria were not only deadlocked over technical issues — including at what diplomatic level to resume the negotiations — but also involved disagreements over substance.

"It became clear that Syria's demand [was] that Israel will change its position on certain issues in the security arrangements as a precondition for negotiations," Rabin told Israel Radio. "This was not acceptable."