Syria Urged to `Seize Opportunity' for Peace Israel Open to Talks, Clinton Writes Assad

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton is urging Syrian President Hafez Assad to "seize the moment of opportunity" for peace negotiations with Israel.

In a letter sent over the weekend, Clinton told Assad he had confidence Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak was willing to hold peace talks after a threeyear stalemate.

Clinton also invited Assad to stay in touch with him.

A U.S. official, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, said Clinton also told the Syrian leader about the four days of talks he held with Barak.

The president told Assad "this is a moment of opportunity to be taken advantage of," the official said.

Syria's price for peace is return of the Golan Heights enclave along the border. Israel captured the strategic territory in the 1967 Mideast war, effectively shutting down a corridor used by Syrian tanks to move against Israel.

Barak, as Israel's military chief of staff, publicly called for retaining the Golan Heights. But then he took the post of foreign minister in a Labor government willing to return most, if not all, of the land.

In his Washington visit, Barak spoke of a readiness to make a "painful compromise" for peace.

Clinton and Barak held talks in Morocco on Sunday with several Arab leaders who were with them at King Hassan's funeral.

As the momentum for peacemaking grew, Jordan's King Abdullah II made an unannounced visit to Damascus yesterday to brief Assad on his discussions with Clinton and Barak at the funeral. …