Meeting Between President Clinton and Syrian President Fail to Produce Agreement on Restarting Israeli-Syrian Peace Talks
GENE RANDALL, CNN ANCHOR: In Geneva, three hours of face-to-face negotiations between President Clinton and Syrian President Hafez al- Assad failed to bridge the differences that have kept the Syrian- Israeli peace talks on hold since January.
Mr. Clinton is on his way back home to Washington after his first full-scale discussion with al-Assad since 1994.
The White House says even though further talks between Israel and Syria would not be productive now, the meeting was very useful.
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JOE LOCKHART, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He had a chance to clarify the needs of Israel directly to President Assad and they have the chance from President Assad directly to understand the needs of Syria. I think as far as any resumption of talks, it's impossible to predict when those talks might resume.
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RANDALL: And here with some insight on the day's development: Daniel Pipes, head of the Middle East Forum. Mr. Pipes, thank you for being with us from New York today.
Are you surprised at the outcome of today's talks in Geneva?
DANIEL PIPES, MIDDLE EAST FORUM: No, Gene, I'm not. I've been predicting this all along, that these talks aren't going anywhere. They're talks for their own sake from the Syrian point of view.
RANDALL: Well, does it seem strange at all to you that President Assad, who does not do much traveling given his frail health, would travel to Geneva only to have the announcement made at the end that there was no progress?
PIPES: Not really. The way I understand the Syrian government is that it wants to be involved in the peace talks in order to reach out to the West, not to be treated as a rogue state. On the other hand, it doesn't actually want to achieve anything, because if it did achieve a breakthrough, if there were a peace treaty with Israel, then that would mean a tremendous change in Syrian life. And I think the government's scared of that. So peace process, not peace, is the way I'd categorize it.
RANDALL: Well, Mr. Pipes, the Egyptians certainly led people to believe in fact that Syria and Israel are close to a deal, that we would find evidence of that in these talks in Geneva. Did the Egyptians have it wrong?
PIPES: They did. They've had it wrong before. They were working off their emotions. I'm not sure what it was.
But clearly, if you look at it objectively, the differences between the Syrians and Israelis are really quite small. If there were the will to close a deal, it could be done in days or weeks. The problem lies in the will, in the wanting to get to yes.
RANDALL: Well, is it a question of will on both sides?
PIPES: No. The Israelis have over and over again capitulated on one after another of their positions and been flexible and said, all right, we'll give you this, we'll give you that. The Syrians have simply augmented their demands as time goes on, signaling to me that they don't really want a deal.
RANDALL: Well, Mr. Pipes, what then next on the Israel-Syria track?
PIPES: I think the important thing now is what happens in the succession. As you pointed out, President Assad is sickly. There is fevered speculation about what comes next. And I think that is now the main game -- not so much negotiations with Israel -- which will again revert for some months to the side and perhaps will be renewed with anticipation next time of success.
But I believe that until the president, this president, President Assad is gone, there won't be a signal breakthrough.
RANDALL: Daniel Pipes of the Middle East Forum joining us tonight from New York. Thank you very much, Mr. Pipes.
PIPES: Thank you.
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