'New energy,' few results

JERUSALEM — JERUSALEM -- President Clinton struggled yesterday to glean concrete results from his swift but ceremonial tour through the Middle East.

He said that he put a "new energy" into negotiations between Israel and Syria. But there was no public announcement at a three-hour stop in Damascus yesterday to indicate that the parties had budged much from old positions.


In Israel, he pledged his full support last night and was lectured by Israeli leaders about the futility of the U.S. position on the status of Jerusalem.

"Clearly, people of all different views are welcomed to express their convictions," Mr. Clinton quipped after hearing pointed messages from Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the opposition Likud bloc.


Mr. Clinton was in the second day of a three-day buzz through the Middle East that was highlighted by Wednesday's signing of formal peace treaty between Israel and Jordan.

Today, he is scheduled to leave Israel, visit Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and return home.

On his quick stop in Damascus yesterday, Mr. Clinton asserted that there had been progress in his private discussions with Syrian President Hafez el Assad.

While emphasizing that a peace treaty was not at hand, Mr. Clinton said that Mr. Assad spoke openly about transforming the region from a state of war to a peaceful and prosperous coexistence between Arabs and Israelis.

"I believe something is changing in Syria," Mr. Clinton later told the Israeli parliament in an evening address. "Its leaders understand that it is time to make peace.

"We have been urging President Assad to speak to you in a language of peace that you can understand. Today he began to do so."

At a news conference in Jerusalem, Mr. Clinton added: "I was convinced we needed to add new energy to the talks, and I come away convinced that we have."

Mr. Rabin was hesitant to join Mr. Clinton's enthusiasm. When asked by a Hebrew reporter about progress with Syria, Mr. Rabin said: "He [Mr. Clinton] did not say a historic breakthrough. He said some progress on certain issues."


Some officials had hoped that the president's unusual visit to Syria would produce a substantial step toward a peace agreement with Israel. It was the first time that a U.S. president had been to Syria since 1974.

But at a news conference with Mr. Assad in the presidential palace in Damascus, the Syrian leader said little that he had not said already. He is ready for full peace with Israel, he said, if Israel is ready for full withdrawal from the Golan Heights.

Israel has refused to commit to completely leaving the border plateau it captured in 1967, and Mr. Assad has refused to outline his provisions for peace with Israel.

Mr. Assad rejected any grand gesture, such as a trip to Israel, to prove his commitment to peace.

"The concern of any country in the world about its security does not justify for that particular country to preserve the lands of other states, of other countries," he said. "And countries which fought throughout history did not put conditions for achieving peace that one party should visit the other or should not visit the other.

"There is nothing we have that proves our design for peace, except our saying that we want peace."


Mr. Rabin said later: "I don't know of any of the [negotiating] partners who don't want peace.

"The question is, 'What is the meaning of peace, and what is the price of peace?' "

Mr. Clinton hinted that there was cause for optimism after private talks with Mr. Assad, but he would not elaborate. The president announced that Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher would return to the Middle East in a few weeks on a follow-up peace shuttle between the countries.

That received grudging approval from Mr. Rabin, who prefers direct, secret negotiations with Syria.

"It's not the best way, in my opinion," said Mr. Rabin. But "we will continue," he promised.

Mr. Clinton's address to the Israeli Knesset, or parliament, was preceded by speeches from Mr. Rabin and Mr. Netanyahu. Both men insisted that Israel must not negotiate


with Palestinians on the status of Jerusalem.

The United States and nearly all other countries consider East Jerusalem and the Old City to be illegally occupied by Israel and have insisted that the 150,000 Palestinians there be given political rights.

When it signed a peace accord with the Palestinians in September 1993, Israel agreed to negotiate the status of Jerusalem within five years.

But Mr. Rabin insisted yesterday that the issue is not up for discussion.

"Jerusalem is not an issue under negotiation," he said, speaking in the Knesset only a few feet from Mr. Clinton.

"I have nothing to bargain," he said. "We are loyal to our values and our heritage. Jerusalem was and will be the capital of Israel for eternity, under Israeli sovereignty."


Mr. Netanyahu had a similar message: "We have come back to our biblical homeland."

Mr. Clinton did not mention Jerusalem in his speech. Nor did he talk about the Palestinians, their competing claim to East Jerusalem, or the roles of Muslims and Christians in the city.

Instead, he vowed virtually unqualified support for Israel as it worked toward establishing peace with its neighbors.

"Our role is to help you to minimize the risks of peace," Mr. Clinton said.

He pledged to maintain U.S. aid to Israel -- the highest amount given to any country -- and to guarantee that its military remains superior technologically.

He continued his drumbeat against Islamic radicalism and violence.


"The forces of terrorism and extremism will threaten us all," he said. "The real fight is not about religion or culture. It's a worldwide conflict between those who believe in peace and those who believe in terror."

Mr. Clinton, the first sitting president to visit Israel since 1979, has been warmly received here, though there was little room in his 19-hour stay to meet the public. Small crowds have greeted his huge motorcade, made up primarily of police and security cars.