Perry Offers U.S. Troops for Mideast Peacekeeping

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JERUSALEM: U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry has told Israel and Syria that if both countries make the request, American troops will help secure peace in the Golan Heights following a peace agreement. Although Syria has yet to respond, Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres was enthusiastic, asserting that such a force could serve as a symbolic deterrent, not a fighting force. "We have never asked for American soldiers to defend our lives, and we are not going to ask this sort of participation in the future," he said. Dispute over the Golan, which Israel wrested from Syria in the 1967 Mideast war, has stymied peace efforts between the two countries. Israel may now be ready to go along with Syria's demand to withdraw, but wants to ensure the safety of Israelis there. A multinational force, Peres said optimistically, would deter Syrian terrorism and reassure Israelis following a peace agreement. "This force, if deployed, will probably get more opposition from American isolationists than from anyone in the Golan," notes Pentagon correspondent Mark Thompson. "But the mission would not put American forces in great danger, nor would it be costly. Clinton can and will assert U.S. interests are at stake here. Aside from the oil reserves, the U.S. has made a lot of progress in promoting peace throughout the region." While Perry did not stipulate what the size of the U.S. force would be, Thompson estimates it would be commensurate with the U.S. presence in the Sinai, about 500-1,000 troops.