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Syria: Israel Peace Accord Is Near

December 12, 1999

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) _ Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa said Sunday a peace accord with Israel could be reached within a few months.

``I am so optimistic to say that few months could be enough to reach a peace agreement,″ he told reporters after a meeting with the visiting Egyptian foreign minister.

``I think this is a very important moment in the history of the peace process,″ al-Sharaa said in the first official Syrian comment on the peace talks, which are scheduled to resume this week in the United States.

``We think we can achieve genuine results within a short time if all the parties have the good intentions,″ he said.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak has also said he thinks an accord could be reached within a few months.

Al-Sharaa said Syria will be ``positive″ in discussing all basic matters that were left uncompleted when previous negotiations broke off in 1996.

``We are going to Washington with good intentions. ... We are serious about making peace with Israel and we will do whatever we can in order to contribute to the success of peace between the two countries,″ al-Sharaa added.

The Syrian minister said he expected the peace efforts with Lebanon also to gain momentum along with the first round of negotiations that will take place in Washington.

``We think that the progress on the Syrian and Lebanese fronts will be simultaneous. ... We hope to reach a peace agreement that will lead to an Israeli withdrawal from South Lebanon and the entire occupied Golan at the same time,″ he said.

Al-Sharaa will lead the Syrian side in the Washington talks while Barak will lead the Israelis.

Soon after talks with Syria were announced, Barak had said he expected talks with Lebanon, over which Syria has great influence, to resume quickly.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Moussa, who arrived here earlier Sunday, said he believed the resumption of peace talks between Israel and Syria is a ``very serious and important development in itself.″

``We hope that progress will be achieved soon if good intentions and the right political decisions are made. I believe Syria is adamant that she should achieve peace in the shortest possible time,″ he said.

In Jerusalem, a former senior official was quoted as saying Sunday that Syria agreed last year to allow Israel to continue operating an early-warning station in the Golan Heights, the core of the Israel-Syria conflict.

Syrian President Hafez Assad agreed to that in 1998, the official, Uzi Arad, was quoted as saying by Israeli army radio. Arad was a diplomatic adviser in 1998 to then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Mideast war and operates a radar station on the peak of Mount Hermon at the northern tip of the Golan.

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