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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Seeks Bigger Syrian Presence in Talks

JERUSALEM -- With peace negotiations between Israel and Syria in slow motion, U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher is going to Damascus on Thursday to urge President Hafez Assad to give more power to his delegation when talks resume later in the month.

At a minimum, Christopher and Israeli leaders with whom he met would like to see a Syrian military official at the table at the secluded Wye Plantation in eastern Maryland with authority to talk about security arrangements at the border.

Israeli diplomats also said Wednesday the now-recessed negotiations had not dealt directly with water resources and the economy of the Golan Heights enclave that Prime Minister Shimon Peres has offered to give back to Syria.

Israel has proposed a thinning out of Syrian and Israeli troops near the border and has suggested joint development of the area, with Israel providing the technology and Syria the manpower.

"In the next round, we would like to discuss security issues, water issues and economic issues,'' said a senior Israeli diplomat. "The Syrian delegation needs a fresh mandate. They exhausted the mandate at the Wye Plantation.''

The diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, told American reporters that "clearly to move the discussions forward the Syrian delegation needs a mandate to do so.''

The talks are to resume Jan. 22.

Syria, through the official newspaper Al-Baath, said it was ready to engage in continuous negotiations. "If there is anything new in the Syrian position, it is readiness for continuous negotiations that would end with results which will give peace what it requires and give the region security,'' the newspaper said.

Meanwhile, Yossi Beilin, a foreign policy specialist in Peres' office, said if Syria added military experts and economists to the delegation "there is a chance to make a breakthrough.''

Otherwise, Beilin told Army radio, "it will be a little too late for the operative period of this American administration and Israeli government.''

Beilin, who played a key role in the decision to relinquish the West Bank and Gaza to the Palestine Liberation Organization, referred to elections this year in the United States and Israel.

On Wednesday, Israel and Jordan gave a new demonstration of their peace accord, symbolically beckoning to Syria to seize what Peres called "the galloping prospect of peace.''

The occasion was a presentation of prizes to the chief Israeli and Jordanian negotiators, and the symbolism was evident. With Christopher sharing the platform on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, King Hussein and Peres extolled the benefits of peace between the Jewish state and its Arab neighbors -- and the risks involved.

"We know how heavy responsibility bears on us,'' Hussein said to an audience of Israelis and Jordanians. Among them were 12 members of the Jordanian parliament, making a first visit to Israel.

Peres, obviously with an eye on Damascus, which so far has not provided Israel with peace terms the prime minister considers satisfactory, said Israel and Jordan introduced "a model peace, a warm peace,'' and there was an unprecedented opportunity to spread it through the region.

"We still face all kinds of challenges; the greatest of them is not to let the galloping prospect of peace pass us by,'' Peres said.