US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright kicked off a new peace mission Monday telling Israel and the Palestinians firmly that now is the time to make difficult decisions as a deadline for a final peace looms, reported AFP Monday.
"The moment of truth is fast approaching in the pursuit of the Israel-Palestinian peace," Albright said, referring to a September 13th deadline for a permanent agreement and making little secret of Washington's frustration with the slow pace of negotiations, the agency said.
"It's not going to be easy but if Israelis and Palestinians are willing to accept that neither side will get 100 percent of what it wants, that each side must address the needs of the other in the spirit of partnership and that the tough decisions that must be made won't become any easier with time, then they will succeed," she added.
At a joint news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, Albright said she and US president Bill Clinton remained committed to helping the Israelis and Palestinians reach an accord.
"We are there ready to roll up our sleeves," she was quoted as saying, expressing hope that "Clinton, Barak and Palestinian president Yasser Arafat could meet together soon at a Camp David-style summit in the United States."
Reuters reported Monday that Albright was due to meet Arafat in Ramallah Tuesday as she tries to move the Middle East peace process forward.
Afterward, she will return to Jerusalem for sessions with Barak and Israeli foreign minister David Levy, Reuters added.
According to the agency, the return visit was announced only Monday after Albright and Barak met for more than three hours.
During their meeting, Barak suggested he was ready to return more territory to Palestinian control than previously offered to conclude a final accord over such sensitive problems as Jerusalem's future and how much land Arafat would have for a Palestinian state, the Associated Press reported.
The two sides have already missed two deadlines for a framework deal and are now blaming each other for the current poor state of the negotiations, AP added.
"Within the coming few weeks we will know if there is the will and determination on both sides to try to resolve the problems and to put an end to the conflict," Barak was quoted as saying.
Barak, facing a virulent campaign by Jewish extremists over the transfer to the Palestinians of land they consider part of biblical Israel, is also grappling with a potential new crisis in his fragile coalition government because of an on-going feud with the powerful ultra-Orthodox Jewish party Shas, said AFP.
During the Albright-Barak meeting, a group of right-wing demonstrators chanted "Albright go home."
Meanwhile, Albright is due to travel to Cairo Wednesday to meet Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq Shara, as well as Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and foreign minister Amr Moussa, AFP said.
Albright was quoted as saying that they would discuss the possibilities of a revival of Israeli-Syrian peace talks, which broke off in January over the fate of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights only weeks after their resumption, said AFP - Albawaba.com
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