By Munir K. Nasser, Washington-DC
A State Department official confirmed to Albawaba.com that a Camp David-style three-way summit in Washington between President Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat might be held soon if enough progress is made in the final status negotiations.
The official, who asked not to be identified, said “If the parties make a certain amount of progress, then there is always the possibility that the President will invite them for a summit to see what else needs to be done.”
The official stressed, however, that until now no plan or date has been set for such a summit, adding that the subject will be discussed between President Clinton and Prime Minster Barak when they meet in Berlin on Thursday.
“It is dependent on the progress the parties make,” he added, “and if substantial progress was made in the peace negotiations, there is always a possibility that he would at some point invite them for a summit to help them reach a permanent status agreement.”
When the official was asked to comment on the Israeli press reports that a framework agreement between Israel and the Palestinians will be finalized within a month in the back-channel negotiations in Stockholm, he said the parties have been engaged in these issues and “they are serious about reaching an agreement and we are doing everything to support them.” He refused to discuss the nature of progress made so far, adding “it is pretty clear we are not discussing those talks or what is taking place in those talks. What we are saying is that it is important that they are meeting and are having serious discussions.”
The State Department official also mentioned that the Clinton-Barak meeting in Berlin, changed later to Lisbon, will discuss prospects for reaching an Israeli Palestinian agreement on the permanent status. He said the two leaders will asses the situation following Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon and will exchange views on how to strengthen the US Israeli relationship.
On the withdrawal of the Israeli troops from Lebanon, the official said the United States is focusing on confirming the withdrawal by the United Nations. He said he expects the UN to confirm Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in the next few days, adding the Lebanese authorities are increasing their presence in the south, and that “it is important for the government in Lebanon to do its part in implementing Resolution 425 and fully reassert its authority in the evacuated area. “There can be no justification for cross border attacks against Israel,” he said.
Commenting on the tense situation on the borders between Israel and Lebanon, the official said the UN Secretary General has reported to the Security Council that Shabaa farms are part of the territory that Israel occupied in 1967. The UN has stated clearly that the Shabaa farms do not fall within the scope of resolutions 425 or 426. “The presence of armed militias in the south is a matter of concern and further reinforces the need for the Lebanese government to establish clear presence including the Lebanese armed forces,” he said.
The official expressed his satisfaction at the way things turned up in South Lebanon after the Israeli withdrawal. “This has been the best case scenario we could expect,” he said. “It will be very interesting to see in the course of the next weeks and months how the South Lebanese Army members and their families are treated, and if they are treated with respect and turned over to the government of Lebanon vs. Hizbollah.” He added that the Lebanese government has sent some policemen and army units to the south, and if they do their part and take responsibility for this territory that is back in their hands, that would be a sign that the Lebanese are taking responsibility and also Hizbollah will be acting responsibly and allowing the government of Lebanon to take control of the area.”
On the issue of the Lebanese prisoners still detained in Israel, he said: “This is an issue being addressed by the Israeli courts, and we have made clear in the past our views on the issue of detainees in our human rights report. We also said in the past that we viewed the Israeli courts decision to release detainees being held without charge as positive and we welcome that trend.”
Commenting on Syria’s role in Lebanon, the official said the United States asked the Syrians publicly to use their influence to maintain calm during and after the Israeli withdrawal. He pointed out that Syria clearly understood the Israeli warning that if they attacked they would then retaliate against Lebanese and Syrian infrastructure. “I think they took that very seriously, and I think they did use their influence to make sure that the situation was calm during the Israeli withdrawal.” He believes all that goes in favor of Syria, and shows that they are probably serious in some respects to try to come back to the peace negotiations and claim credit for their efforts – Albawaba.com.
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)