Uri Saguy tells all, ctd: Provides an insider’s account of Barak’s “missed opportunity” with Syria in 2000
Uri Saguy continues to to reveal details of Israel’s diplomatic history with Syria. In April, Maariv relayed an interview he had given to veterans’ publication, in which he described the role played by Ron Lauder in brokering Netanyahu-Assad negotiations in the ’90s. Last Friday in an extensive interview given to Yediot’s Uri Misgav, Saguy calls for the resumption of the diplomatic process and provides a highly critical insider’s account of Barak’s handling of the previous round, in 2000.
Maj.-Gen. (res.) Uri Saguy, the best informed person on the details of negotiations with Syria, is concerned about Israel’s situation and convinced that in light of the crisis with Turkey, Israel’s utmost priority should be peace with Assad. In fact, he was sure it was about to happen (” I saw with my own eyes a draft agreement with the Syrians”) but then suddenly everything went wrong. Ehud Barak already provided his explanations here recently. Now Saguy reveals other details from the closed rooms
Uri Misgav, Yediot Friday Political Supplement, June 11 2010 [Hebrew original here and at bottom of post]
“We were very close to achieving a peace agreement with Syria in 2000. Closer than ever. It would have happened had we done what we promised to ourselves, the Americans and the Syrians.” Ten years after the collapse of the Israeli-Syrian channel, Maj. Gen. (res.) Uri Saguy reveals the details behind what he calls “a missed opportunity of deep historic significance.” Saguy, appointed by then Prime Minister Ehud Barak to head the Israeli team for the talks, says “drafts of an agreement, written by Jonathan Schwartz from the US State Department, were already exchanged. I saw them with my own eyes. Not everything was agreed. Another meeting between the leaders was needed to conclude the deal. But the Syrians came to Shepherdstown with a mandate to move forward. That is what the head of their delegation, Foreign Minister Farouk A-Shara, said, and we knew this from the good intelligence we had at our disposal. It fell apart with a terrible crash. The Syrians and Bill Clinton came out of there with the feeling that the Israelis did not meet their commitments. I think Barak came there too soon. He should have come for the next stage. I told him it was a mistake for him to go at the head of the delegation, that the time was not ripe yet. He replied: “We are going for two or three weeks, whatever it takes, to make peace.”
The extensive series of conversations with Saguy took place over the last two weeks, in the midst of what looked like an Israeli slide into the depths of an unprecedented political low and international isolation. The discussion of the agreement not reached with Syria was not academic and not disconnected from the context. “There is no point in settling scores,” says Saguy, “but we are not exempt from asking ourselves questions. We are good at beating ourselves up in inquiries following military failures. We do not always check ourselves when it comes to strategic political failures of the highest order. And in 2000 we failed.”
What did it collapse over?
“I think it collapsed over the ethos. The Syrians said ‘June 4, return what you took by force.’ The Israelis said ‘Assad will not wade in Lake Kinneret,’ ‘we want to continue surrounding the Kinneret.’ There were technical solutions for everything. Israel played very cleverly with the solution proposed by the Americans, of the difference between sovereignty and control, and I will not elaborate so as not to cause damage. I will only say there were solutions for everything. But what we could not get over is the ethos. At the critical stages the Israeli side was not determined enough. It is a shame. But we must not give up.”
What happened to Barak at the moment of truth?
“I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. We talked from time to time. He sticks to his position that there are things I don’t know because I was not the prime minister. I accept that I wasn’t and I accept that I don’t know. And I still believe it was a real failure. The argument is not over the Golan Heights. The argument is over the state of Israel’s strategic national security. The Golan Heights is a very sensitive platform and we could do two things with it: either use it as a basis for an agreement or fight over it. Wars do not happen everyday but when they do happen it is very hard. I still remember. If there is no choice, we will fight and our children will fight. But when there is a choice, should we not even explore it? That does not seem moral to me.”
The Rabin deposit
Saguy, 66, a father of three and grandfather of two, is probably one of the Israelis who has met the most Syrians face-to-face. “I first met them on the Golan Heights. There were a lot of them then, too,” he quips. He fought on the Golan Heights in the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War and was wounded twice. Later in his service he commanded the Golani brigade, was head of the general staff’s operations department in the First Lebanon War and served as commander of the land forces and the Southern Command. Between 1991 and 1995 he served in his most important position, chief of intelligence. Only there, he admits, did the coin drop. “I spent many years as a military man on the Golan Heights, I saw it burn, not only thrive,” he explains. “I did not understand what only later as chief of intelligence I was able to understand. It was a job that helped me develop a much broader worldview. I understood additional factors, I understood the limits of power.
“I suggest looking around on the Golan Heights. Not being impressed only by the groves. Go to Tel Fares, to see the landmines and the killing fields there, where yours truly somehow came out alive from an entire command post that didn’t. At my age I’m allowed to have an opinion. I believe that a political agreement between Syria and Israel is a military national interest of the highest order. Anyone futzing around with all kinds of proposals that do not touch the core – a ‘compromise,’ a withdrawal to the cliff line, as proposed by Uzi Arad — does not want a settlement with the Syrians. That is not a possible opening point for negotiations. I am sorry to say this but it is the truth.”
When was the first time you met Syrians not through the gun sights?
“In 1995 I went with Chief of Staff Ehud Barak, on behalf of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, to meet the Syrian Chief of Staff Hikmat Shihabi. The meeting also included Itamar Rabinovich and Danny Yatom. It was a fascinating meeting, in the sense of intellectual stubbornness, but also Syrian stability, fortitude and even faith in their inner truth. I understood the Syrian position but I also found several openings and points of interface from which we could move on.”
The point of departure was the so-called “Rabin deposit.” Could you explain those simple words to the public?
Israelis don’t read. We are the people of the book who do not like to read books. You have to understand what the Rabin deposit said, because this was later used by four other prime ministers. One of them, Netanyahu, denies it, but his denial will not withstand the test of history. The deposit said that Israel would ultimately be willing to retreat to the June 4, 1967 lines, as long as it is satisfied in the areas of security, borders, water and normalization. A sentence and a half that was said verbally and then deposited in writing in the American pocket. Once it was said to the Syrians you have a basis for negotiations. It is still valid today. I think Bashar Assad does not understand the ethos, he recites it. The June 4 ethos touches upon matters of belonging, that what was taken by force shall be returned, who started the war. It is not a material thing, it is something you have to learn. Rabin talked about the June 4 lines but when I met the Syrians I managed to refute that there even was such a line. If negotiations resume the argument will break out again. There is no June 4 line, and therefore everybody will have to explain what they mean.”
So what did Rabin mean?
“Rabin knew what the Syrians wanted to hear, but I’m not sure how deeply he studied the ethos. Rabin also touched upon the Israeli ethos. Israelis are usually good at what they don’t want to happen and less clear about what they do want to happen. But here they said: we want security, agreed borders, normalization, water. Water is measurable but wading with your feet in the water of the Kinneret is an ethos. If in negotiations with the Syrians we rely only on the legal side, we are doomed to fail. You have to understand deeper cultural things.”
But in the end Rabin recoiled.
“In 1993 he was already unsure whether the agreement would pass. Listen to a story. At that time I participated in a critical talk in his office. The heads of all the negotiating track teams were called for a briefing. There were maybe six of us. Out of all the people in the room only Rabin, Barak and I knew that he was about to make a decision about Oslo. Rabin told me: ‘Israel is facing two important strategic decisions. Of the two tracks, what do you recommend?’ I said it was not the job of the chief of intelligence, and he replied: ‘Now you are in a discussion like at a kibbutz meeting. Speak freely.’ I told him I thought that Israel should prefer the Syrian track. Ehud Barak agreed and Rabin said: ‘I also think Israel’s strategic and military national interest is to close with the Syrians and then leverage that in favor of an agreement with the Palestinians, but I do not think I can pass that.’ And then I made a terrible and even impertinent mistake and asked him: ‘Mr. Prime Minister, why can’t you pass that here in public opinion?’ He went right along with me and said: ‘I have no way to pass that.’ I told him: ‘But your public as there, most of the people of the Golan are Labor Party settlers.’ And then he told me: ‘It is obvious you don’t understand anything about Israeli politics.’”
One of the conversations with Saguy, a seventh generation Israeli and a scion of settlers from Yisud Hamaalah, was held in the garden of his home in the village of Kfar Bialik. The recording was disturbed by the twitter of birds and the rumble of tractor engines. A large portion of his time is devoted to manufacturing olive oil and the business’s showroom displays prizes and citations in the field. After his discharge from the army he joined the Labor Party and was mentioned as a candidate to be a minister and Knesset member, but he avoided running in the primaries.
“I did not go into active politics because I understood that my added value in the current system would not be great,” he justifies. “It is true that in my generation better men than I reached the bleak conclusion that we are seemingly giving up. In one gathering of friends at our house Ilan Biran and Amir Drori and other friends were present. We talked, we complained and then my son piped up and said: ‘We grew up believing you guys were great heroes, leaders of the military system. But from what I hear here you are big cowards.’ And I would add: civilian courage is not less needed than courage on the battlefield. That is a criticism that we truly deserve.”
In the last decade Saguy has not met Syrian representatives and instead deepened his historic-academic knowledge in the area. This pursuit began in 1996, “when I was discharged from the IDF and invited for an academic sabbatical at Rice University in Texas at the James Baker Institute. I spent a few months there and wrote a thesis about the Israeli-Syrian dialogue. I met a lot of Syrians there. As chief of intelligence people avoid you, as a civilian I learned more. The research question was whether an Israeli prime minister would be willing to make peace with Syria, knowing the price.”
And what was your answer?
“I was asked both about Netanyahu, whom I did not know, and about Barak, and I estimated that they would. Today I am aware of an attempt by Netanyahu, which I appreciate, but he’s doing it with the wrong representatives. What I mean is, the emissary does not have his own agenda but if he has problems of comprehension then you fail. With Shihabi there was no problem, he understood what Hafez Assad wanted. Itamar Rabinovich and Barak and Shahak also understood what their boss wanted. Whereas Lauder went to talk about far-reaching proposals, which are formulated very wisely, but what is interesting is that it did not work.”
Did Netanyahu consult you during his first term?
“He did not rely on my knowledge beyond conversations here and there. He summoned me a few times, asked my opinion, consulted here and there. I do not understand why, but I told him that at Rice University the Americans asked me whether the new Prime Minister had what it takes to make an agreement with Syria, and without knowing him I said yes and explained. At one of the meetings Netanyahu asked to see my paper. I don’t know if it is good or not but he still hasn’t given it back to me. Maybe this is an opportunity to ask for it back.”
Once and for all, what exactly is Netanyahu’s position on this subject?
“During those conversations I did not know to what extent the services of Ron Lauder were being used. Later I would read the Lauder document. It is a very intelligent, well-worded document, and it circumvents the unavoidable debate between June 4 and the international line. On the other hand I know that Uzi Arad and maybe even Netanyahu deny what it says, so I leave it to the judgment of history. But if I were the head of Syrian intelligence reading the Lauder document, and I were asked whether the Israeli prime minister intended to retreat from the entire Golan Heights at the end of the day, I would answer yes. They understand that Netanyahu intended no less than Rabin intended, and Peres intended and Barak and Olmert intended. I reached the conclusion that five prime ministers argued about tactics but understood that in an agreement they had to retreat from the whole Golan Heights.”
Could the present Netanyahu make peace with Syria?
“I don’t know about his will. He has the ability, both personally and politically. But he has to decide that is the goal. There will not be a more convenient political situation. Barak is with him and the opposition will support it if there is a reasonable agreement. And if Barak is there I trust them there will be a reasonable agreement. Barak does not need my advice in the press. He is well aware of what was missed. They can do it but I see no sign. Maybe they will still surprise us, who knows.”
A key figure in this story was and remained Ehud Barak. As Prime Minister and Defense Minister, Barak sent Saguy to secret meetings (see separate box) in Switzerland and the US “to try to get a draft that would allow renewal of negotiations,” in Saguy’s words. “There were two main, multi-session meetings. I traveled alone. I met Riyadh Daoudi. In Israeli terms, the attorney general. Dennis Ross was also there as the kashrut supervisor. This I am already allowed to tell. Later, for a meeting in the US, Daoudi asked if he could bring with him General Ibrahim Omar from the Syrian military intelligence, who had attended the 1996 meetings under Peres. I was still alone. I preferred not to bring a legal adviser. To this day I am against the tendency to let the legal side run our lives. It is another symptom of lack of leadership.”
How did the meetings go?
“They were instructive. That is where I learned it is not about technical things but about the ethos. I told Barak: ‘I suggest we talk to them about June 4.’ At first the approach was absolutely not. So I said ‘let’s try at least to ask them, when you say June 4 what do you mean.’ That was the fascinating part of the meetings. I prepared, I was equipped with plunder maps. I like to prepare for wars. I watched the Syrian thesis sort of collapse layer by layer. And then we could start talking. Until Barak no Israeli leader, and I say this to his credit, ever touched the core. No Israeli leader was willing to put his hands in the muck.
“Barak has a tremendous learning curve. He was willing, and I think he even wanted, to reach an agreement with Syria. Each side reported back to their country that there is what to talk about. The fact is that even the Americans publicized right afterwards the fact that the talks had taken place, and invited the sides to an open meeting at Blair House. There was a positive meeting there too, even though A-Shara made a big mistake when he refused to shake Barak’s hand. He offended the Israeli honor. The damage to Israeli public opinion was huge. The Syrians came ready technically but they do not know the Israeli mentality well enough.”
So the problem was public opinion?
“Barak deliberated. After one of the last meetings, when we prepared the agreed solution that collapsed in Geneva, he asked me: ‘Will this agreement pass?’ I told him I thought it would. He asked: ‘What leads you to say that?’ I said the agreement was responsible and good and that it passed two reasonable people like you and me, who understand the Israeli interests.”
A month ago Barak told me on the pages of the Saturday Supplement that the problems were different.
“Maybe you need to interview him again. At the basis he really wanted it. He called me and others to the flag and allowed me to invest real inputs in it. He drew in the US as the leader and made sure Israel had military-political alternatives if we gave up the Golan Heights. But at the moment of truth, if you don’t score that goal you don’t have a goal.”
He claims that the Shepherdstown summit failed for two reasons: the lack of compartmentalization with the media and Assad Sr.’s worsening illness.
“I read the interview. It seems esoteric to me to pin this on the technical matter of the location of the meeting. It seems to me like a comment Barak might want to reconsider. Not that I am wowed by Shepherdstown, it is a town there is nothing to write home about. But those are questions of conduct, not of substance. I do not understand that comment. I said there was a deep dispute between us Israelis whether this stage was ripe for the prime minister to go to those talks. After all, Syria sent its foreign minister. And he made a decision. He went there with the feeling he was going to bring peace. Therefore a comment about the location of the talks as an obstacle seems strange to me. There was another strange thing that I learned from the interview. It should not have surprised Barak that Hafez Assad was sick. We knew that. Precisely because of his sickness there was a desire by Israel, the Americans and the Syrians to accelerate, because Hafez had the ability to make decisions. His son has a little less.”
So what happened in Shepherdstown?
“As opposed to our promise, we were not willing to talk about the questions of borders and water. We promised at the Blair House meeting that we would talk about everything and then Israel changed its mind. I had ready teams there for every subject. We sat there, we played sports, we waited for something to happen. After a day and a half I asked Barak what was going on. The question remained hanging in the air. I understood that something went wrong. It was strange, both in conduct and in substance. The place felt to me like the waiting room of a health fund, the kind where you take a number. Everybody was wandering around the hallways and waiting to begin talking.”
And you never clarifed this question with Barak?
“I don’t think it was possible to clarify it. Look who was there with him. Foreign Minister David Levy. Minister Amnon Lipkin Shahak. I as the head of the team. Atty. Gen. Elyakim Rubenstein. All to back up the fateful decision. He didn’t bring us there for nothing. I remember us all looking at each other, making hallway conversation and not understanding.”
How did it end?
“If collapsed at a dramatic dinner, with not-so-great American food. There were three of us on each side. A-Shara made a harsh speech, spilling out all of his frustration for more than 20 minutes. He attacked the Israeli approach that couldn’t decide. He said to Barak: ‘You said we were going to talk here about borders and water, that is what I reported to my president. It did not happen. What am I going to tell him now, that I deceived him?’ Barak tried to explain that he had political issues, that he had to be in Israel, to do some more checks, and then A-Shara confronted him sarcastically: ‘Who else can you consult? You have the best experts here. You are a military man, Shahak was Chief of Staff, Saguy was chief of intelligence, who else do you need?’ Clinton shared that feeling of disappointment.”
What was going through your head during those moments?
“Frustration and that we were missing an opportunity. I do not like getting lectured by Farouq A-Shara. We could have avoided that. If you don’t mean it, why do you start? But I am telling you we did mean it. Barak wanted it. We had a historic feeling. I am aware of the differences of opinion in Israeli society and the fact that there is a sharp and real debate here, but I felt that we were immeasurably improving Israel’s strategic situation.”
Barak actually agreed to return to the June 4 lines and then he recoiled?
“That is the core. If you ask whether we achieved border arrangements and security, water and normalization, the answer is yes. If you ask why it collapsed anyway, I go back to the elusive question of the ethos. To this day I and others wonder about that. Everything that has to do with technical things I felt we could solve, including things I was not in charge of, such as how to relocate our population from the Golan to another place in Israel. Barak went into the matter deeply, very thoroughly, and I have no answer what happened to him at the last minute.”
Wading in shallow water
One of our conversations took place a day before the Turkish flotilla. Saguy did not want to waste time on it. “This is a single incident. A politician deals with incidents, a statesman is supposed to deal with processes,” he explained. The next day I went back to him. I could not resist asking him if during the day he thought about the Entebbe Operation, during which he commanded a Golani force that landed at the Uganda airport. “You will not hear a word from me about the fighters,” he declared. “If I have anything to say it is about our leadership’s ability to clarify goals and ascertain that they are achievable. Entebbe is an incident, even if a constitutive incident. Life is not Entebbe. Life is much grayer. To survive in the Middle East we have to have a strong force but we cannot, for the sake of the continuity of life year, rely only on military power. It is just not possible. Maybe we can’t see this but occasionally we receive painful slaps.”
But what do you learn from the flotilla anyway?
“It is a hard event but I do not draw conclusions from it about wading in the shallow water of tactics. Here we have the embodiment of arguments in the name of justice that do not necessarily help achieve the goal. In the name of historic justice and the justice of our arguments we can bring disaster on ourselves. That’s the way it is when everything turns into the rock of our existence, in an almost fatalistic, historiosophic tone, and we both know where that comes from. Opening the Western Wall Tunnel, just like preventing the entry of consignments into Gaza — even if both decisions come from the most correct arguments — if it is not done rationally, the outcome is fatal. I look at this process with grave concern. Israel is looking worse and worse. We are not listened to even when we are right. Even when we are fighting terror. We have to ask why this is happening. I have a very hard time with the school of thought of people who think they know everything, that they are right about everything, and that move into the third phase of messianic righteousness. That is a bad thing. I would prefer we were a little humbler and try to understand there are other factors that influence reality.”
“We underestimate the way the world sees us. I am not saying we are not right. Justice is subjective. But we are fighting less and less over the loss of our legitimacy. We are exposed to criticism that is only going to grow, until the Goldstone report will look like a small foretaste of what is yet to come. I hope I do not sound like a preacher and I am aware of my handicap, I am not the son of a historian. But the historic perspective of someone raised on practical Zionism allows me to say I see little deployment to meet this challenge. Complacence is a sure recipe for inaction. Israel has initiated almost nothing in the last years, except for a few military operations, which were also reactive.”
The concerned and disturbed citizen
Towards the end I asked Saguy whether a restarting of the political process by renewing the Syrian track was even realistic. “Bashar Assad is right when he says that more than 80% of the issues were resolved at the time,” he replied, “and the rest could be resolved in a meeting between the leaders. The average Israeli does not think we need to leave the Golan Heights in exchange for an agreement. This reflects a reality that I understand, of Israelis who hoped and believed and were disappointed. But leaders — if they are statesmen and not politicians — have to decide whether they believe that a political agreement with Syria is a primary interest of Israel. If the answer is yes then they have to make sure the agreement is good and then market it to the public. Ben Gurion said: ‘It doesn’t matter what the people want, I will decide what the people need.’”
And this is what the people need now as a top priority?
“That is debatable. I just want to mention that I have already seen different experiences. At the end of the next war you can bet Israel will be looking for political dialogue. Since 1974 the border with Syria has been quiet. Except for two incidents, one at Hispin and one at Mt. Hermon at Mitzpeh Shlagim, there were no incidents at all, because that is a Syrian interest. If it is in their interest you can be sure they can be trusted.”
Still, the average Israeli asks himself why the Syrians deserve to receive the Golan Heights.
“The question of whether I’m willing to give up the Golan Heights is a political question. What is willing? Okay, I am not willing. The question is what the alternative is. What are we going to be talking about at the end of the next war, that will have many casualties, our home front will also be hit, not just the Syrians’, and I tend to assume it will end with an Israeli military victory? We will be talking about the same things. We can spare it.”
Are Netanyahu and Barak capable of pursuing this?
“What is the test of leadership? An Israeli prime minister can during his term make no more than a single decision of historical significance. Even if it costs him his job. If we have a historic leadership with a vision — and after all the prime minister and defense minister claim to have one — then they cannot spend their term only maintaining the status quo and responding to all kinds of incidents.”
Do you claim that the alternative is war?
“Not deciding is also a decision. Of course it increases the chances of a military confrontation. According to what has been published, there have already been incidents between Syria and Israel in the last two years. I suggest listening to Arab leaders seriously. Bashar Assad did not say when, he did not say for sure, but he did say that the alternative way to achieve his interests includes the use of force. We do not need to be afraid of him but we should not dismiss him. Sadat said this a year before October 1973 and we tended to dismiss it.”
If you had another chance, how long would it take you to conclude a deal with the Syrians?
“That is not a fair question. It is not a consequence of my talents. It is true that the knowledge is there. I still function pretty well physically and mentally. I still remember everything. Some accuse me of remembering too much. I do not know how to conclude any deal in a vacuum. I do know how to do it if Israel decides it is its interest. It is still attainable. Until that happens I will continue to be a concerned and disturbed citizen. Israel deserves to avoid being a historic episode. Nothing lasts forever. Nothing is guaranteed here.”
“Ashkenazi’s prism is not only military”
If you want to know what the chief of staff thinks you can ask Uri Saguy
Uri Saguy is considered one of the pillars of the “Golani family,” whose veterans periodically meet in his large yard. The most intriguing aspect of that culture is the ongoing consulting he gives the incumbent chief of staff. It is interesting to note that it was recently reported that Gabi Ashkenazi, along with the head of the Shabak Yuval Diskin and even the hawkish head of the Mossad Meir Dagan have been putting pressure on the political echelon to re-examine the Syrian track. I asked Saguy what he knows about that unusual step by the heads of the security arms. “These are three very responsible people,” he replied. “They have been supporting Israel’s national security for many years and with great talent. So if they have something to say, I am sure they say it where they need to. I don’t know if what was attributed to them is true, but when it comes to Ashkenazi, whom I meet a lot, he has a solid worldview. A broad perspective, that does not look only through the military prism.”
Ashkenazi is considered a consistent supporter of a political agreement with Syria.
“I do not want to speak for him but I think he has a very coherent worldview of Israel’s national and military interests and he is attentive, open, understanding, informed.”
How does your dialogue with the Chief of Staff work?
“As soon as he took office he asked to consult a number of veterans. I am one of them. There are not many. As long as I am asked I will continue advising. That is how I do my ‘reserve duty.’ A year and a half ago I participated in a large exercise and they even sent me those coupons for the bus. It was amusing. In the end I took the train.”
“I was not a blonde woman”
Little stories that cannot be told
Naturally, the secrecy of the preliminary meetings Saguy held on behalf of Prime Minister Barak had its intruiguing side. “At home I did not say anything,” he recalls. “It is a strange quality of mine. My daughter is angry at me that to this day I have not told them what happened in Entebbe. I tell her it is too early.”
Did you travel in disguise?
“Yes, yes. I was not a blonde woman but I definitely went in disguise and not for the first time. It was a pretty fascinating business. You are on a flight, sitting across from people who know you well, and they simply do not identify you. No matter how much they prepare you and hide you, in the end you meet somebody unplanned on the flight. The head of El Al security at Kennedy Airport was a subordinate of mine. He did not identify me either. I could tell something looked strange to him but he did not manage to attach the body build to the person. It was amusing. In the end I told him who I was, I couldn’t take it.”
As far as you know, what is happening today on the Syrian track?
“Not much. There are feelers. At the indirect talks in Turkey the sides refreshed their files a little. We have to find a way, not without the Americans and not through messages in the media, to have secret meetings to ascertain whether there is a basis to renew negotiations.”
Are you involved in such communications?
“No, but even if I were involved I could not tell you.”