Syria and US Move Closer In Wake of Mideast Accord

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THE Sept. 13 Israeli-Palestinian peace accord has resulted in one milestone after another. The most dramatic was the recent White House handshake between two longtime combatants, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat.

But this week brought another unusual development - a meeting between the top diplomats from the United States and Syria. In the first visit to Washington by a senior Syrian official in almost 20 years, Foreign Minister Farouk Sharaa held talks with US Secretary of State Warren Christopher.

For years, US administration officials have treated Syria as the ``spoiler'' to Middle Eastern peace efforts, putting Syria on its list of countries supporting terrorist activities. Mr. Sharaa seems troubled that his country remains on the list.

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Syria will not ``obstruct the agreement,'' he says, but neither Syria, nor Palestinians, should be expected to refrain from criticizing the accord. Syria is home to some 300,000 Palestinians has been a haven for groups opposed to Mr. Arafat's conciliatory approach toward Israel.

``We do not exaggerate the weight of the Israeli-Palestinian accord, because there are many aspects that require another set of negotiations,'' says Sharaa.

What little has been agreed upon, he continues, ``has created sharp divisions in the Palestinian arena.''

Sharaa calls for a comprehensive agreement that encompasses the return of Arab territories occupied by Israel, including the Golan Heights, seized by Israel in 1967. ``Unless peace is such, it is not going to survive,'' he told Middle Eastern diplomats and dignitaries gathered at a Middle East Insight Magazine forum.

``Syria is more serious and more keen than those who have deviated from the joint [Arab] negotiations [with Israel]....'' Sharaa says.

``What is important is to achieve peace, not to see photo opportunities,'' Sharaa says, referring to last month's White House signing ceremony between Israel and the PLO.

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