How Albright Got Syria and Israel to Dance

  • Share
  • Read Later
Score one for Madeleine Albright's choreography skills. Israel and Syria will resume face-to-face peace talks next week, President Clinton announced Wednesday, after Albright's meetings with the leaders of both states. Despite sharing a will to resume negotiations, the two sides differed fundamentally over what had been agreed in previous talks, which broke off in 1996. The Syrians want Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak to restate what they say was a promise by slain permier Yitzhak Rabin to hand back the captured Golan Heights in exchange for peace. Barak maintains that this was a hypothetical offer, and that an Israeli promise to withdraw can only come aftervarious conditions had been negotiated. Now, Albright appears to have choreographed a sequence of gestures and undertakings that will bring Barak and Syrian foreign minister Farouk al-Sharaa together for two days in Washington next week.

"Both sides have the will to resolve this problem," says TIME U.N. correspondent William Dowell. "(Syrian President) Hafez Assad is concerned to negotiate Syria's recovery of the Golan because he doesn't want to leave his son and appointed successor, Bashar, facing this complex problem. For the Israelis, a deal with Syria would put Israel at peace with all of its immediate neighbors." It may be some time, though, before the two sides reward President Clinton with a triumphant photo opportunity. "The talks will be hard because both sides are tough negotiators," says Dowell. "There's unlikely to be a quick resolution, but the talks themselves represent a major advance." Which may be why Barak will come to Washington himself rather than send his own foreign minister. The Syrians, after all, have one of the most powerful armies in the region, and they have to be treated with a little more respect than Israel accords the likes of Yasser Arafat.