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News Briefs 2

Baker Made Secret Trip to Syria

The Washington Post

Those were barbed words former secretary of state James A. Baker III used at the Republican National Convention two weeks ago as he trashed the Clinton administration for its dogged efforts to nudge Syria into peace with Israel.

"Over the past four years," Baker said, "the Clinton administration has made over 22 trips to pay court to Syria's dictator and come up with exactly zero. When they write the history of Bill Clinton's foreign policy, they're going to call it Gullible's Travels."

That line drew laughs and applause, but as often happens in such a partisan environment it didn't tell the whole story. Baker failed to mention that as the nation's top diplomat in the administration of President George Bush he often journeyed to Damascus and met for many hours with Syrian President Hafez Assad.

And now it turns out that Baker's contacts with Assad did not end when Clinton succeeded Bush. Baker made a secret trip to Damascus in March 1995 and talked to Assad for more than six hours in an unsuccessful effort to break an impasse in negotiations between Syria and Israel.

Baker made that trip on the explicit understanding that it remain a secret, according to an associate, but after his speech at the GOP convention Itamar Rabinovich, Israel's outgoing ambassador to the United States, told a reporter about it. Rabinovich declined Wednesday to say why he did that.

According to the associate, Baker has a "standing invitation" to visit Syria, an outgrowth of the patient work Baker did in establishing a constructive relationship with Assad. As secretary of state, Baker persuaded Assad to join the U.S.-led coalition of forces that drove Iraqi troops out of Kuwait, and later cajoled Assad into participating in the Middle East peace negotiations that began in Madrid in 1991.

English Royals Finally Divorce

The Washington Post

Prince Charles and Princess Diana were finally, officially, divorced Wednesday.

The world's most talked-about marriage, which became the most talked-about split, came to an end at exactly 10:27 a.m. London time, when a court clerk rubber stamped the decree.

Neither Charles nor Diana was required to make an appearance and neither did. She - still wearing her wedding ring - hurried into a luncheon sponsored by the English National Ballet, glancing only once, with a look of disdain, at the camera-wielding army massed to photograph her. On the way out, she smiled and waved briefly from the back seat of her limousine at some nearby workmen but pointedly ignored the press.

He disappeared at Balmoral Castle in Scotland, where he is vacationing with their two sons, but was inevitably captured by long-range lenses.

The royal marriage lasted roughly 15 years and a month. Its slow disintegration was the longest running show in London, spawning an industry of newspaper scoops and counterscoops, intercepted phone conversations, interviews and counterinterviews, leaks by friends of hers, leaks by friends of his, books and documentaries.

The terms of the divorce remained the subject of press speculation. It is rumored that she gets a lump sum of roughly $22 million.