Albright Intervenes in Washington Peace Talks to Help Israelis, Palestinians Close the Gaps
By Munir K. Nasser
Chief Correspondent, Washington, DC
US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright intervened in the Middle East peace talks on Friday in a last minute effort to help Israeli and Palestinian negotiators close the gaps between their positions.
A State department official told Albawaba.com that Albright met with the two sides at Bolling Air force Base on Friday for two hours. “She had very serious discussions with the parties in bilateral and trilateral meetings,” he said. “She discussed with the parties their assessment of where we are and where we need to go.”
When asked to explain the term “very serious discussions” and whether that means new US proposals were offered, the official said: “We are closing the gaps but we haven’t resolved all the differences.”
The official stressed that progress was made. “Clearly these are very difficult discussions, but we do remain encouraged by the commitment and spirit of openness exhibited by the parties,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian side gave a gloomy picture of the negotiations. Chief negotiator Saeb Erekat told Reuters by telephone from Bolling Air Force Base in Washington: 'The gaps are still there, and the situation is very difficult. It was very lengthy and extensive. We did a recapitulation of everything that happened,' Erekat said.
The official confirmed that the Palestinian and Israeli negotiators would be meeting with President Clinton on Saturday after the Sabbath is over for the Israeli negotiators. He said the White House would issue a statement by Saturday evening on the talks explaining what they have achieved and what next steps will be taken.
The official said no travel plans to the Middle East have been confirmed for senior US officials. However, he said a likely scenario would be for somebody to go to the region, like Dennis Ross or Secretary Albright. The final plans for such travel would be known on Saturday or Sunday, he said.
Administration officials said if the negotiations end on a positive note this weekend, President Clinton could then send an envoy to the Middle East to lay the groundwork for a summit meeting to tie up all loose ends. They insisted, however, that President Clinton, mindful of what happened at Camp David in July, would not call a summit until he is certain it will lead to a final settlement.
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)
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