The deadlock in the Middle East peace process showed no signs of being broken in early December, despite the latest round of shuttle diplomacy in the region by US Secretary of State Warren Christopher. During his three-day regional tour, Christopher held talks with Syrian President Asad and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, but failed to make any progress on the key issue of Israel’s withdrawal from the Golan Heights.

Even before Christopher’s arrival in Damascus on 6 December, President Asad was playing down any possibility of a breakthrough on the Golan Heights issue and spoke of the present stalemate in the peace process. ‘The peace process is still in the same condition,’ he told reporters after his meeting with Egyptian President Mubarak on 1 December in Damascus. ‘Nothing new has happened. You may be able to deduce from the statements made by the Israelis that things are not progressing. The party responsible for this is Israel.’

The assessment was disputed by incoming US Senate majority leader Bob Dole. ‘In my view, peace will only come with Syria after Asad demonstrates through deeds – not rhetoric, not words but deeds – that he has made a real decision to pursue peace as a strategic course rather than a tactical opportunity,’ Dole said in a speech At New York’s Yeshiva university on 6 December.

In his meeting with Asad, Christopher also urged Syria not to hold up talks on an Israeli withdrawal. ‘The status quo is not an answer to violence and terror, it will only invite more terror,’ the secretary of state said. Despite the appeal, it was clear that Christopher had failed to narrow the gap between Syria and Israel, a point made by Yitzhak Rabin on 7 December after talks with the secretary of state. ‘I don’t as yet see a considerable improvement in positions, in changing positions,’ the Israeli prime minister said.

Problems are also evident in the Palestinian talks. Israel has indicated that it wishes to delay the planned redeployment of forces in the West Bank. Christopher met PLO chairman Yasser Arafat on 7 December in Gaza to discuss the issue and the increasing problems with security.