Assad and Clinton fail to come to agreement on resuming talks

President Clinton and President Assad of Syria met in Geneva yesterday in what could be a last attempt to avoid war in southern Lebanon this summer.

What was advertised as an attempt to restart Syrian-Israeli peace talks - with Bill Clinton trying to accommodate HafezAssad's demand that a total Israeli withdrawal from the occupied Golan Heights should be based on the United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 - has now become a race to prevent a unilateral Israeli withdrawal under fire from Lebanon.

The two men held three hours of talks, through interpreters, at the Intercontinental Hotel in Geneva, with the Syrian leader patiently explaining he was not going to fall into the same "peace" trap as the Palestine Liberation Organisation leader Yasser Arafat. He will not make peace with Israel before guaranteeing the return of all of the occupied Golan, captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war. Mr Arafat signed a peace settlement then failed to gain a majority of the occupied West Bank or a capital in Jerusalem.

As Mr Clinton returned to Washington last night, United States officials acknowledged the two leaders had failed to nail down an agreement that would allow the peace talks to resume.

The White House spokesman, Joe Lockhart, said that the talks between President Clinton and President Assad had been "very useful" but that the differences were significant and more work was needed to bridge them. The planned resumption of Israel-Syria talks in Washington this week had therefore been shelved and, according to Mr Lockhart, it was impossible to predict when they might resume. The US would, however, continue its attempts to mediate.

Mr Lockhart said that Mr Assad had "articulated his position clearly and forcefully" throughout the talks.

The US is sending Dennis Ross, the special Middle East envoy, to Israel today. Mr Ross has spent much of the past three years shuttling around the Middle East trying to establish common ground for a comprehensive Middle East settlement.

The Israelis and Americans know that Syria will never allow the former to withdraw from their hopeless war in southern Lebanon without the return of the Golan. With a Syrian peace still unsigned, Hizbollah guerrillas in Lebanon - supported by Syria - will continue to attack withdrawing Israeli occupation troops and Palestinian guerrillas might then be permitted to attack Israel across the international frontier - just as they did before 1982. Israel wants its soldiers out of their occupation zone by July.

Syria has already indicated that it would accept an international presence on the Golan after an Israeli retreat; sources in Beirut suggest that US and French troops could be permitted to man an early warning station on the heights.

And, if the Israelis do withdraw, the Syrians seem resigned to the opening of diplomatic missions in each other's countries. Mr Assad is even said to be prepared to compromise on the exact line of withdrawal, perhaps accepting continued Israeli control of the entire shore of Galilee while negotiating on joint water rights.

But he wants the whole of the Golan back before a full peace. Mr Assad's south Lebanon card is a powerful one. If Israel withdraws, only to find that its northern border is as vulnerable as it was more than two decades ago - and this after two Israeli invasions of Lebanon which cost the lives of at least 19,000 Lebanese and Palestinian civilians - then the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, will be seen to have failed in his attempt to cut his army's losses in Lebanon. The Lebanese, of course, would bear the cost of such a war.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions