US Secretary of State Warren Christopher has said he is determined to press ahead with efforts to achieve a peace agreement between Syria and Israel. US officials say Christopher is due to return to the region in September, following his 5-9 August visit, and possibly monthly thereafter until an agreement is achieved.

US officials said the latest round of talks involving Israel and Syria had been far more detailed than previously. Both sides have emphasised that they are committed to trying to reach an agreement, even if substantial gaps remain.

Christopher said at the end of his trip that he felt there was a very conscious searching on the part of both sides as to the needs of the other party. ‘They were not utterly self-absorbed, but they were rather thinking about what the needs of the other party were and what might be done to achieve them,’ he said.

During his latest visit, Christopher met President Asad and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, as well as attending ceremonies for the establishment of direct travel and telephone links between Israel and Jordan (see Jordan).

Syrian Foreign Affairs Minister Farouq al-Shara said in Beirut on 10 August: ‘We can’t speak of tangible progress, but at the same time there is a serious discussion of everything raised.’ He added: ‘We have stressed to the American side that the issue of the total withdrawal (from the Golan Heights and South Lebanon) is not a matter for bargaining.’ He said the issues for negotiation included items such as the timetable for the withdrawal and security arrangements.

While in Beirut, Al-Shara also addressed the issue of Lebanese resistance to Israeli occupation in the south. He said Syria’s position remains the same, entailing full support to the right of local groups to fight against Israeli occupation. Tensions have subsided in the south after a flare up in the first week of August. Israeli Foreign Affairs Minister Shimon Peres said on 8 August that Israel felt Syria had played a role in forcing restraint on the Hezbollah group, which leads resistance operations in the south.

Palestinian concerns about the slow pace of their negotiations with Israel were addressed during a meeting between PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat and Rabin on 10 August. The two leaders, meeting on the Erez border crossing between Israel and Gaza, discussed the hand over further civilian powers to the Palestine National Authority, as well as speeding up talks on extending the self rule area beyond Gaza and Jericho (see Gaza/West Bank).