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Shepherdstown ready for talks

January 01, 2000|By DAVE McMILLION

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - When the owners of the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center received word the hotel would be the site of peace talks between Israel and Syria, one of the first orders of business was planning for meals.

Clarion owners realized they would have to prepare about 100 kosher meals a day for their Israeli visitors, said Erwin Asam, one of the owners of the Clarion.

It was such a big part of the planning process Asam decided to send some of his chefs from his own Bavarian Inn and Lodge on the other end of town to the Clarion to help prepare the kosher menu.

"All these people have to eat somewhere," Asam said.

Making arrangements to feed the estimated 520 people who will in town in conjunction with the talks is just part of the planning that has been done for the peace summit which begin in Shepherdstown Monday.

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There have been numerous meetings among local police on how to provide security for the talks, which will include a visit by President Clinton on Monday.

Starting today, the Clarion property will be sealed from public access, said Asam. Clarion workers scheduled to work at the hotel today will have to park at a parking lot at nearby Shepherd College and then be taken to the hotel in secured automobiles, Asam said.

"Actually, the Clarion will be completely taken over by the State Department," said Asam, who owns the conference center with Shepherdstown developer Ken Lowe and Hagerstown contractor Mike Callas.

Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak are expected to stay at the Clarion for the talks, which have no timetable for completion.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will also attend the talks, State Department officials said.

The White House press office said Clinton plans to travel to Shepherdstown Monday for the start of the talks. He is expected to be available for the talks on an ongoing basis, State Department officials said.

The U.S. Secret Service, the State Department, the West Virginia State Police and the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department and the Shepherdstown Police Department will provide security for the talks, said Mayor Vince Parmesano.

"We have also pulled in the departments from Ranson, Charles Town and Shepherd College. So hopefully we will have a big enough pool for security," Parmesano said.

With the exception of the area surrounding the Clarion, town residents will face no restricted access to other parts of town. The only time traffic might be stopped is when an occasional motorcade passes through town, officials said.

Parmesano said he wants the town to have a "business as usual" atmosphere.

"One thing we don't want is to make a circus out of this thing," Parmesano said.

Area police agencies have been meeting up to two times a day in recent days to plan security for the talks, said Jefferson County Sheriff William Senseney, who has been involved in planning security. Senseney would not say how many officers are being used.

Parmesano said he is concerned about possible demonstrations in town. He said members of two organizations from New York and Washington called him and inquired about what they needed to do to be allowed to stage a public demonstration.

Parmesano declined to identify the organizations, but he said State Department officials were familiar with them. The town will probably set up an area away from the Clarion for demonstrations, Parmesano said.

"Most groups are just interested in getting their pictures on TV," Parmesano said.

Demonstrators usually arrive by bus, and there can be between 20 and 25 participants, Parmesano said.

Although State Department officials say there is no reason to fear any violence associated with the talks, some people in Shepherdstown have been concerned about possible terrorism around the Clarion.

Residents worry that if there is any terrorism there, it could spill over to nearby Shepherdstown Junior High School and Shepherdstown Elementary School, Parmesano said.

School officials said one deputy will be patrolling around the schools during the talks.

Some of the talks are also expected to take place at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife's National Conservation Training Center. Many of the center's dormitories will also be used by people involved in the talks, said center spokesman Steve Chase.

Hundreds of members of national and international media are expected to cover the talks.

The State Department has set up about 100 workspaces for journalists at the Butcher Center, which is the basketball complex at Shepherd College, said Shepherd College spokeswoman Valerie Owens. Extra phone lines and electrical service had to be installed in the work areas to accommodate reporters' needs, Owens said.

The State Department will also have press briefings on the talks at the Frank Center next door, Owens said.

There are very few motel rooms left in the area, and Asam said his Bavarian Inn was booked almost instantly when it was announced the talks would be held in Shepherdstown.

Reporters and news crews from NBC, the New York Times and other organizations immediately snapped up the 72 rooms at the inn, he said. CNN reserved about 20 rooms, Asam said.

"It's a boost to the local economy, to be sure," he said.

Syria and Israel have been at war over territory since the state of Israel was created in 1948. The latest round of negotiations are an effort to end the conflict, although no formal agreements are expected, State Department officials said.

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