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Secrets of peace talks emerge

January 11, 2000|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Cameras strung from trees, bomb-sniffing dogs and police patrolling paths behind the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center were part of the high security needed for the week-long peace talks between Israel and Syria that ended here Monday, police said.

Police said one of the more interesting details was watching over a propane tank the size of a train car in back of the hotel, where Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharra stayed during the seven days of negotiations. The tank would have made an ideal terrorist target.

A police officer was stationed near the propane tank 24 hours a day to guard against any possible sabotage attempts, said West Virginia State Police Capt. Larry Bradley.

Cameras were put in the trees that line the driveway to the hotel, said Ken Lowe, one of the developers of the complex. He did not say how the cameras were used.

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Many local officials declined to comment about security for the talks because they said there is a chance they could return to Shepherdstown.

Lowe said two houses he leases at the end of the driveway of the hotel were turned over to local police. Police used the houses to set up telephones and other equipment, Bradley said.

A U.S. Secret Service agent stressed, however, that there was "no electronic eavesdropping on anyone."

"I can't really discuss anything beyond that," said Secret Service Agent Mark Parkman.

The number of local and federal police providing security for the talks initially was estimated at more than 100, but Parkman said there were actually more than 200.

"It was the most strict security I've been on," said Charles Town Police Chief Mike Aldridge, who sent officers from his department to help on the detail.

On Tuesday afternoon, employees at the Clarion were busy moving furniture back into the hotel. Several trailer loads of furniture had to moved out of the hotel along W.Va. 480 to create more conference space for the talks, Lowe said.

Beds were moved out of some motel rooms to create suites for the dignitaries, he said.

Most of the negotiations that took place at the Clarion were held in three conference rooms near the main entrance, Lowe said. President Clinton was photographed with the dignitaries in the hotel's tavern.

U.S. government officials insisted on making sure the furniture was positioned as they wanted it in the bar before photographers from the press pool were allowed in, Lowe said.

"I was most impressed by the president and the exactness of the security," Lowe said.

Lowe said he met Clinton. He described him as being "as charming as they come."

Lowe said he will never forget some moments, like the night Clinton walked down the hallway toward the main entrance, wearing a bomber jacket and cowboy boots.

Both the Secret Service and the U.S. State Department provided security for the talks. But because the State Department does not have a uniformed division, it contracts with local police to help with security, said Mayor Vince Parmesano.

Parmesano said he was still figuring how much the town is going to charge the State Department for use of the local police department, but it would probably be around $6,000.

The talks were also held at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife's National Conservation Training Center along Shepherd Grade Road. Training center spokesman Steve Chase said he could not comment about security at the center because officials there did not pay attention to police assigned there.

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