Secretary of State Warren Christopher, hoping to make a dent in the Israel-Syria standoff, is heading to the Middle East for the fourth time in three months.
"I wouldn't be going unless I thought it was worth the trip," he said Thursday. But Christopher also cautioned, "There is unlikely to be any substantive breakthroughs."His first stop is Egypt for a meeting with President Hosni Mubarak, who has been trying to broker a deal between Israel and Syria. Christopher will go on to Israel on Saturday. He told radio reporters he anticipated one or two shuttle round trips between Jerusalem and Damascus.
"The parties are digging in on some very tough issues," Christopher said. "They are wrestling with the toughest issues. My own impression is there is progress to be made."
The crux of the dispute is the future of the Golan Heights, a strategic enclave Syria lost to Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War.
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin has offered to give up at least some of the land in exchange for peace and to remove the 13,000 Jews who live there. But he is waiting for Syrian President Hafez Assad to spell out his peace terms before considering a total pullout.
Christopher said the two leaders refuse to meet face to face so he is functioning as an intermediary. Christopher made two trips to the Middle East in May and another in July.
On another track, Christopher probably will celebrate the Israel-Jordan pledge not to go to war against each other again by crossing between Eilat and Aqaba.
The agreement signed in Washington last month by Rabin and Jordan's King Hussein provides for opening the border and also for cooperation in a number of areas, including telephone connections and electric power.
"I hope to be inaugurating some of those," Christopher said in apparent reference to a border crossing by him next Monday.
He is expected to return to Washington on Tuesday or Wednesday.