The United States still expects a resumption in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks here next week, despite hints from the region that an internal political crisis in Israel could delay it, a State Department official said Friday.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States still planned for delegations from the two sides to arrive either late Sunday or early Monday and for the talks to begin Monday at an as-yet undecided site in the Washington area.
"My understanding is they (the negotiators) are still expected Monday and the talks will start sometime Monday, not Monday morning but Monday afternoon or evening," the official said.
His comments followed remarks from a spokesman for Israel's chief negotiator, Public Security Minister Shlomo Ben Ami, that Ben Ami might not be making the trip as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak grapples to rebuild his coalition government that has been hit by parliamentary defections.
"We don't know at this stage whether the minister will leave or not," the spokesman told AFP.
Ben Ami is expected to attend a crucial cabinet meeting Sunday in Jerusalem that could see the dismissal of six ministers who voted Wednesday along with their three parties for an opposition bill calling for new elections.
But an Israeli official in Washington said the embassy here still expected Ben Ami to come to the talks, leaving Israel after the cabinet meeting to arrive early Monday.
"As far as we know here, there is no change yet," the official said.
Though Washington continues to prepare for the talks, the State Department official said that as of Friday morning no venue for the negotiations had yet been set.
He said the talks would "probably not" be at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington where the last round were held but would not say why.
"It's a question of logistics mainly and this is very short notice," the official said.
"There are still a couple of sites being looked at -- some are in (Washington) DC, some are outside," he said, stressing however that the talks would be held in the capital area.
The two sides are trying to conclude a framework agreement for a final peace settlement before as a mid-September deadline as well as the implementation of interim issues, including another Israeli handover of parts of the occupied West Bank under earlier accords.
The final status issues cover such thorny topics as Jerusalem, which both sides claim in whole or in part as their capital, Palestinian refugees and Israeli settlements.
While the talks, expected to last about a week, are underway Palestinian President Yasser Arafat is to travel to Washington on Wednesday to meet US President Bill Clinton who is anxious to see the two sides reach agreement before the end of his second term in office in January -- WASHINGTON (AFP)
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