Clinton Sounds out Peace Prospects with Arafat, Barak
US President Bill Clinton on Sunday made a fresh bid to break a deadlock at Middle East peace talks, planning meetings with Israeli Prime Minister and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat to assess the chances of bridging the gaps which divide them, according to AFP.
The president traveled by helicopter to the Camp David retreat west of Washington, just hours after his return to the United States from the Group of Eight summit in Japan. He conferred immediately with the US negotiating team, said the agency.
"We expect heavy duty activity by the president," US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.
Boucher on Sunday warned that the talks were not open-ended and noted that Clinton has other commitments later this week, AFP added.
"This is not unlimited," he said.
"All the leaders have obligations, all the leaders have the desire to work hard for a peace agreement, for a settlement, if we can get one.
Despite reports of a stalemate, Clinton maintained before leaving Japan that some headway had been achieved during his absence at the three-day Group of Eight summit.
"There has been a lot more systematic effort with the groups on a lot of issues," Clinton told reporters.
An Israeli official, meanwhile, said the summit would reach a decisive moment when Clinton asks the Palestinians to respond to his proposals aimed at breaking the deadlock, AFP said.
"Arafat has not given us any answers concerning the US bridging proposals over the weekend," said the official, who asked not to be named.
"We have already agreed to the proposals, and the ball is now in Arafat's court. We are waiting for Clinton to ask Arafat for an answer, if Arafat doesn't accept the proposals, there will be no point in continuing with the talks," he added.
However, the Jerusalem Post reported that Arafat is likely to accept the US bridging proposals on Jerusalem, quoting a source close to the Palestinian delegation said.
"If this is the suggestion on offer, then I believe Arafat will accept it," said the source.
He added "Arafat was playing tough in the negotiations, but that at the end of the day he would probably accept the proposal as a basis for more talks, the paper said.
"Arafat will not receive a better offer," said the source.
But the source stressed that Arafat and the Arab leaders closely watching the talks, including Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and Jordan's King Abdullah, would "press until the very end" for complete sovereignty over the Muslim and Christian quarters of the Old City, and would certainly not close a deal denying full authority over Muslim holy places, said the paper.
The US proposal reportedly suggests the Palestinians be given authority over several Arab neighborhoods in east Jerusalem as well as some form of authority over the Muslim and Christian quarters of the Old City.
Israel, in turn, would annex several large Jewish areas on the outskirts of the city, which would be recognized as Israel's capital, the paper said.
Barak is reportedly ready to use this proposal as the basis for future negotiations if Arafat is willing, according to the paper - (Several Sources)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)
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