World turns eye toward Shepherdstown

January 03, 2000

Rubin and DanBy BRENDAN KIRBY / Staff Writer

photos: KEVIN G. GILBERT / staff photographer

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - From the six large satellite trucks parked at Shepherd College to the cameras set up throughout the downtown, no group provided a more visible presence for Monday's first day of peace talks than the media.

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State Department officials said they issued about 250 media credentials for the talks, during which Israel and Syria will try to resolve decades of conflict.

"This is a great day for a stakeout," said one of the photographers as a horde of reporters waited for President Clinton's helicopter to land.


During the downtime between briefings - most journalists were not allowed near the Clarion Hotel and National Conservation Training Center where the talks were held - reporters swapped war stories of coverage of the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

The college set up a large room for the mostly out-of-town journalists to write their stories. Three long tables - one each for the Israelis, Syrians and Americans - dominated the room.

State Department officials worked behind a blue curtain.

James RubinWhile most of the reporters were from the three principal countries, the State Department also issued credentials to journalists from Great Britain, France, Germany, Sweden, Egypt, Japan and China, among others.

One of the foreign reporters, Israeli freelance journalist Uri Dan, expressed skepticism over the prospects for a lasting agreement.

"I personally don't believe Israel has a real partner for such a negotiation. To give the Golan Heights to ... (Syrian President) Hafez Assad, I think would be a mistake," he said. "But we are a democracy."

Dan, a veteran of the 1956 war against Egypt who covered the Camp David peace accords in the 1970s, said he flew in Prime Minister Ehud Barak's plane. He said he is staying at the Bavarian Inn.

"It's very surrealistic to cover the Shepherdstown negotiations from the Bavarian Inn. But it's very nice," he said. "It's like landing on the moon."

Dan also said he was impressed by the Yellow Brick Bank restaurant in downtown Shepherdstown.

"What a lunch," he said.

PressIt was not just foreign journalists who got a kick out of tiny Shepherdstown. Major American media outlets described the town in the way out-of-state reporters always describe small towns.

CNN called it a "quaint town" that hasn't seen battle since the Civil War. The Washington Post described it as a "bucolic college town."

Shepherdstown got high billing with major newspapers and network news shows Monday.

News organizations from Syria and Israel had little to say about the setting for the talks.

An Israeli political organization called Gamla argued on its Web site that Shepherdstown was chosen because it's "out of the way and easier to block off" protesters and control media access.

The English version of the Syrian newspaper Al-Thawra said the talks were being held in "Virginia west of Washington," possibly a translation error.

Staff Writer Laura Ernde contributed to this story.

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