US President Bill Clinton on Monday discussed re-launching the Middle East peace process in telephone conversations with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian president Yasser Arafat, reported AFP, quoting a White house spokesman.
Clinton has not yet decided, however, to try to convene a three-way summit, according to White House spokesman PJ Crowley.
"The President talked about both substantive issues and about the process of moving forward but again the president has made no decision," Crowley said.
The conversation with Barak, who was in Camp David, lasted for 15 minutes, while Clinton conversed for some 30 minutes with Arafat, Crowley said.
The telephone conversations came as the PLO's 129-member Central Council met in Gaza City for a second day to draft a statement that is expected to include a call for the establishment of a Palestinian state this year, said Reuters.
"Our decision on that has not changed. Unilateral steps outside the final status negotiations are not helpful," Crowley said.
Israel and the Palestinians face a looming September 13th deadline to reach a decisive peace deal, but remain deeply divided on key issues, added Reuters.
Earlier on Monday, Palestinian officials told Reuters in Gaza the United States had proposed one or two summits with Israel and the Palestinians in July and August to hammer out an accord before their September target date.
Israeli officials have pushed for a summit in the near term, arguing that the more time trickles away while Clinton is in office the lower are his chances of persuading Congress to approve the large aid packages expected to underpin any deal, said Reuters.
Palestinian officials, however, have argued that a summit was doomed to fail without a further narrowing of the gaps and have asked for up to three more weeks of lower level talks in Washington starting next week before a summit. The White House has been reluctant to hold a high-profile meeting unless the two sides are close to striking a deal, which has proved elusive over years of peace negotiations.
“We will evaluate the productivity of bringing the leaders together based on an assessment of where they are and whether that meeting can help bridge the remaining gaps,” Crowley said – (Several Sources)
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