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US Envoy Will Try to Restart Syria-Israel Talks

Assad may choose to wait out current battles over the Palestinian-Israeli deal

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UNITED States Secretary of State Warren Christopher faces a tough task as he arrives here tonight for a re-newed attempt to get the stalled Middle East peace talks going again.

In his week of shuttling around the region, the US envoy will have to persuade Israel to deal seriously with Syria at the same time it is implementing its accord with the Palestinians.

He will also have to convince Syrian President Hafez al-Assad to return to the negotiating table in Washington before Israel pledges to withdraw fully from the Golan Heights.

And on top of that, Mr. Christopher will have to act as a fireman in the talks between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) on the details of their autonomy agreement, which appears deadlocked less than two weeks before the accord is due to go into effect on Dec. 13.

Christopher arrives in Jerusalem tonight and will see Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres before flying to Damascus Sunday. He will then fly to Amman before returning to Israel and then going on to Cairo Wednesday. After a second trip to Damascus on Thursday, he will have a final meeting with Mr. Rabin before flying to Tunis for talks with PLO chairman Yasser Arafat.

His stiffest challenge, as he races through this intense schedule, is to bring Israel and Syria back to the Washington Middle East peace talks.

``The negotiations with Syria are well and truly blocked, and there is no secret channel,'' Mr. Peres told the Israeli Knesset (parliament) on Wednesday. ``Negotiations with Damascus have not even begun.''

Rabin has made it plain that he does not consider negotiations with Syria a priority at the moment, and that he wants to implement his deal with the PLO before addressing the question of the Golan Heights.

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