Israeli and Palestinian negotiators entered their third day of talks with US officials in Washington Thursday as Washington stepped up efforts to bridge gaps in a final bid to secure a peace deal before President Bill Clinton leaves office next month.
Separate talks between the two sides and US Middle East envoy Dennis Ross and his deputy Aaron Miller to be followed by trilateral discussions were to resume in the late morning after the lead negotiators met Wednesday with Clinton at the White House, a State Department official said.
"We're trying different formulas, different combinations," the official told AFP on condition of anonymity. "They're pretty open discussions and we'll just keep plugging away."
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was to meet with both sides around 6:30 pm (2330 GMT) at Bolling Air Force Base where the closed-door talks are being held, he said.
Though the official confirmed that the US side was suggesting a variety of compromises, he declined to comment on reports in Israel that Clinton had outlined parameters of a possible deal in his meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben Ami and chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.
"We've seen all the reports but we have no comment on them. We're just going to keep trying," the official said. Washington has kept the Bolling talks under a shroud of secrecy.
Earlier Thursday, Ben Ami said Clinton had offered up a plan that was broadly acceptable to the Israeli side and had expressed a desire to complete discussion by January 10 -- just 10 days before his term ends.
"President Clinton presented us with the parameters of an accord; that is to say, a possible margin of maneuver on the different unsettled issues, and we consider most of them to be an acceptable basis for discussion," Ben Ami told Israeli army radio, sounding a hopeful note.
"There is no guarantee that we will reach an accord but, for the first time since the Camp David summit in July, we have the impression that the Palestinians want to succeed," he said.
But Erekat was more cautious in his assessment of the talks so far, saying they faced "major difficulties."
The Camp David talks collapsed in bitterness with the two sides unable to find common ground over the most divisive issues separating them including the future of Jerusalem, the status of a Palestinian state and the fate of Palestinian refugees.
Two months later, violence, that is now in its 12th week and has killed almost 350 people, mostly Palestinians began, dampening hopes that a peace agreement could be reached by the end of Clinton's term -- WASHINGTON (AFP)
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