Under a blanket of secrecy, the Middle East peace summit at Camp David entered its third day as Israeli and Palestinian leaders struggled to overcome sharp differences before a September deadline, reported the Washington Post Friday. There was no word of progress, though a US President Clinton, who opened the summit Tuesday, took a break from the negotiations to deliver a speech in Baltimore and attend to other business in Washington. Before he returned to Camp David late Thursday, Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright presided over talks between delegations led by Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.
"These are people who have talked with each other before in a variety of settings, and they're comfortable with each other," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters at the temporary news media center, about five miles from the scenic presidential retreat in the Catoctin Mountains.
"But at the same time," he added, "they are all very, very aware of the seriousness of the issues that face them, the toughness of the issues, the fact that these do involve the vital interests of both sides, and trying to understand the interests and reconcile them is a very difficult process that we are going through now."
Speaking at the NAACP convention in Baltimore, Clinton said he hoped the summit would "resolve the profound differences that have kept the people of the Middle East apart for a very long time."
Recalling slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., Clinton added, "I know that in our quest for a full, fair and final peace - which Dr. King reminded us is more than the absence of war but the presence of justice and brotherhood and genuine reconciliation - I know we will have your prayers and your best wishes."
At Clinton's request, both Israeli and Palestinian participants in the summit have taken, and so far honored, strict vows of secrecy, said the Washington Post.
In keeping with that spirit, Boucher said nothing about the substance of the negotiations, opening his midday briefing with the comment, "Welcome to the daily press blackout."
The two sides are struggling to reach a final peace settlement encompassing all the main issues between them, including the status of Jerusalem, the borders of a future Palestinian state and the fate of refugees displaced by Israel's founding in 1948. After seven years of negotiations that began with the 1993 Oslo accords, Arafat has vowed that even in the absence of an agreement he will declare a Palestinian state by Sept. 13, the date both sides have set for a so-called permanent status accord.
On their own initiative, Barak and Arafat, accompanied by a handful of aides, held their first private meeting Wednesday evening in Arafat's cabin, then joined Clinton and other members of their delegations for dinner, Boucher said. Albright met today with Barak but as of this evening had not sat down with Arafat, said the daily.
’US TO PRESENT PROPOSALS TO M.EAST SUMMIT’
The United States plans later on Thursday to present ideas aimed at bringing Israelis and Palestinians closer as they toil over Middle East peace talks at Camp David, a source close to the talks told Reuters.
“The Americans are going to present their bridging proposals tonight,” the source said.
There was no way of confirming the report as the talks are taking place away from the media at President Bill Clinton's retreat in the mountains of Maryland. US officials have kept a vow of silence on the substance of the talks.
Other sources close to the talks had indicated previously that ideas authored by the US hosts would be given to the two sides on Thursday.
US officials said they had no information on the report and declined to comment further on it – (Several Sources)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com )