The US is poised to continue its efforts towards a comprehensive peace in the Middle East following President Clinton’s whirlwind tour of five Arab states and Israel at the end of October. The US Secretary of State Warren Christopher is expected to return to the region for another round of shuttle diplomacy towards the end of November, with attention firmly focused on the Syrian-Israeli track of the peace talks.

Clinton has shown renewed confidence in the secretary of state’s efforts in bringing the peace process this far. This follows speculation earlier in the year that Christopher was on his way out of office following a series of policy failures in Bosnia and slow progress in the Middle East peace process. However, the signing of the Jordan-Israel peace treaty and indications that Syria is prepared to reach a peace agreement, have helped strengthen Christopher’s position.

Clinton said his own talks with Syria’s President Asad in Damascus on 27 October had made progress, but refused to give details. Speaking in Israel after the Damascus visit, Clinton said he was sorry Asad chose not to condemn the Tel Aviv bus bombing in public, as he had done in private. But Syria’s decision to broadcast on Syrian television Clinton’s reference to Asad’s public reticence has been cited by senior US officials as an indication of the change in Syrian attitudes towards a peaceful settlement.

Following reports of progress in Damascus, Lebanon’s President Hrawi said on 29 October that Lebanon was ready to accept an Israeli initiative to set up a joint commission that would negotiate an Israeli withdrawal from the south of the country.

However, Syria’s Foreign Affairs Minister Farouq al-Shara said on 1 November after talks with Hrawi that the Lebanese offer was nothing new and said progress in the Lebanese track remained dependent on Syria’s negotiations with Israel. ‘Peace with Syria would open the way for Lebanon and for a comprehensive and real peace in the region,’ he said.

Israel’s campaign in south Lebanon has been stepped up in retaliation to the Tel Aviv bus bombing on 19 October. However, Rabin accused the Israeli troops in the area of fighting poorly in the battle against the Lebanese resistance force Hezbollah. In a recent exchange, Hezbollah guerrillas attacked an Israeli installation killing one of the soldiers inside, but with no loss of life to their own forces. ‘An attack on an Israeli army fortification that does not end in a strong blow against the attackers represents failure,’ Rabin told reporters on 1 November.