US President Bill Clinton has spoken of a new sense of urgency in the Middle East peace process as he prepares to meet Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak in Lisbon, according to a report by BBC.online Thursday.
President Clinton was quoted as saying Israel's rapid withdrawal from southern Lebanon had raised the stakes in the peace process, and "all the balls are up in the air now".
The two leaders are expected to discuss the prospects for peace with Lebanon and Syria following Israel's pullout a week ago, and ways to revive deadlocked talks with the Palestinians.
Clinton spoke to the Palestinian President, Yasser Arafat, by telephone on Wednesday.
According to Arafat’s top aide Nabil Abu Rudeina, the Palestinian president "stressed the gravity of the obstacles blocking the peace process", and President Clinton "assured him that he was continuing his efforts to restart it".
Israel suspended negotiations with the Palestinians after bloody clashes in the West Bank and Gaza two weeks ago, but both sides are expected to resume talks on Wednesday, coinciding with the Clinton-Barak meeting, said BBC.
Speaking in Lisbon, where he has been attending a summit with European Union leaders, Clinton said that on balance the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon was good, but "it turns the tension up in all camps".
"It changes everything in a way that increases the pluses and the potential minuses," he said.
He added that much work still needed to be done to reach a framework agreement that is supposed to lead to a permanent Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty by a September deadline.
Israel and the Palestinians are tackling tough issues such as the future of Jerusalem, Jewish settlements on occupied land, borders and the future of some four million Palestinian refugees.
On Wednesday, a US state department official told Albawaba.com that Clinton is likely to host a “Camp David-style summit” bringing the three leaders together after progress is made in the Stockholm back-channel negotiations – Albawaba.com
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