Middle East Talks Enter Final Phase
Round the clock negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians entered the scheduled final day Tuesday in an all-out bid to strike a peace agreement before US President Bill Clinton leaves for Japan.
As the pace of talks accelerated, contradictory reports were spinning round both delegations.
In Jerusalem, the Israeli and Palestinian press voiced pessimism about the prospects for a full peace deal emerging from the summit.
But an aide for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak quickly denied one report that Barak had already decided to leave for home Wednesday.
"Negotiations are going on at Camp David even during night and for the moment the prime minister has not taken any decision to return to Israel," Barak's spokesman Gadi Baltiansky said.
The popular daily Maariv said the minimum objective was now a joint statement -- leaving aside the future of Jerusalem, which both sides want as capital.
The newspaper said the "sense of pessimism is on the increase" because "there is a growing realization that the question of Jerusalem is unsolvable at this stage."
According to the White House, Clinton was working harder than ever with Barak and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat before he leaves Wednesday.
"The pace and the intensity have both quickened," spokesman Joe Lockhart said Monday night. "There have been two straight very long nights between the sides working through the difficult issues here."
"There are a number of negotiators who have been awake for a long time over the last two or three days," he added.
White House spokesman PJ Crowley added, the two sides "probably (will) work well into the night."
Lockhart had announced that "the plan is to complete this process before the president goes. The president has a schedule to keep."
Clinton is set to depart Wednesday morning for a summit of industrialized nations in Japan where he has also planned bilateral meetings with his Russian counterpart as well as the British and Japanese prime ministers.
"I expect that when the president leaves the parties will wrap up their business," Lockhart added.
However, he refused to comment on reports that the talks were in crisis, citing a news blackout imposed on the summit.
"Time is very short, the gaps remain wide," Israeli cabinet secretary Yitzhak Herzog, who is in the United States, told AFP.
"The last moments of the negotiations can be the decisive ones, pressure is mounting, anything could happen," added Yuli Tamir, Israel's Minister of Immigration and Absorption.
A senior Palestinian source also admitted that the two sides were at loggerheads -- THURMONT, Maryland (AFP)
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