Top Israeli and Palestinian negotiators ended a meeting with US President Bill Clinton Wednesday, vowing to keep trying to reach a comprehensive Middle East peace agreement but careful not to spark undue optimism.
"I don't want to raise anyone's expectations," leading Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat told reporters after the White House meeting, which Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben Ami also attended.
What "I can tell you is that we are exerting every possible effort to achieve an agreement," Erakat said after the roughly one-hour meeting.
"There is potential that we could have progress, there are positive signs, but it remains to be seen," an Israeli official told AFP after the meeting, stressing that "Israel remains firmly committed to seek a full scale agreement."
"There is a basis there that maybe we can move the peace process back on track," said the official, who requested anonymity.
But the official said there had been no talk at the meeting of a summit between Clinton, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.
Senior negotiators from both sides, arriving in Washington on Tuesday, said they were not optimistic about making progress given ongoing Israeli-Palestinian clashes in the West Bank and Gaza that has left nearly 350 people dead over the past 11 weeks.
"The talks we've had since we got here have been useful," the Israeli official told AFP. "We're discussing, on at least a conceptual basis, the core issues" at the heart of the conflict.
"I really would not describe what we are doing here in terms of progress or lack of it," Erakat said after the meeting, adding "we have difficulties ... but a determination to continue."
Earlier, the White House had announced that Clinton would hold a "working session" with the negotiators in a bid to "move the (peace) process forward."
"The president wants to take stock, see where they are, and decide whether there's anything we can do to be helpful to move the process forward," said White House spokesman Jake Siewert.
Does the gathering signal a greater personal involvement by Clinton? "He's ready to do whatever he can do to help, but ultimately we're on the parties' timetable," Siewert responded.
But "it's up to them to make the hard decisions and decide what they can agree upon to end the violence," Siewert said, adding "we don't have any trip to the Middle East under contemplation" before Clinton leaves office January 20 -- WASHINGTON (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com )