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White House expects Mideast peace summit to 'wrap up' by Wednesday
No signs of a deal so far
CAMP DAVID, Maryland (CNN) -- White House press secretary Joe Lockhart said he expects the Middle East peace summit at Camp David, Maryland, to be "wrapped up" by Wednesday, when U.S. President Bill Clinton is scheduled to depart for an eight-nation economic summit in Japan.
"I expect that when the president leaves, the parties will have wrapped up their business," Lockhart said at a Monday night news conference.
There were no signs by Monday night that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat were nearing a deal. Several sources familiar with the talks played down the likelihood of a major agreement before Clinton leaves for the G-8 meeting in Okinawa.
Short of a sudden breakthrough, the sources say, the options include:
Ending the summit without an agreement
Suspending the talks until Clinton returns next week
Signing a modest interim agreement and setting a date for resuming negotiations
Analyst Geoffrey Kemp, of the non-partisan Nixon Center in Washington, said, "If they stop, there has to be a clear statement as to what stage they're at in the negotiations. Is there hope of bridging the differences in the coming months?"
No talk of exit strategy
Several sources said Clinton was adamant that there be no discussion of a so-called exit strategy yet, because he believes such talk would bring serious negotiations to a halt.
Jon B. Alterman, of the nonpartisan U.S. Institute of Peace, said, "There's a lot of talk about a follow-up summit in August; that makes people pull back even more. You never know when the actual crunch time is."
With the week-old talks routinely running past midnight, a growing sense of exhaustion is competing with a mounting sense of urgency.
"They all know the work they have to do, and they all understand the opportunity that faces them right here, right now, and the results of not being able to reach an agreement," Lockhart said.
Aides say Clinton wants to work to the last possible minute in hopes of bridging the differences, and if he fails, he wants to work a few minutes more urging the parties not to let the peace process collapse if they leave Camp David without an agreement.
Clinton has played host to the summit at the secluded presidential retreat since July 11, prodding Arafat and Barak toward resolving so-called "core" issues.
Those issues include: Defining borders of a proposed Palestinian state, the fate of millions of Palestinian refugees living in Jordan and elsewhere, and the future status of Jerusalem.
Some progress reported
Earlier, a senior Israeli official told CNN there has been "progress on all the nonimportant issues, but not on the core issues. The gaps are still wide on Jerusalem and refugees."
A Palestinian official told CNN, "We also believe there has been some progress," but described it as modest.
"If you are talking about progress in terms of an agreement, there is no progress, but if you are talking about progress in the two sides coming closer on the issues, then there is progress," another Palestinian source told CNN.
Clinton meets leaders separately
Clinton met on Monday morning with U.S. negotiators before holding separate meetings later in the day with Barak and then Arafat.
Lockhart noted that "two straight, very long nights" of negotiations had failed to produce an agreement between Barak and Arafat, adding that U.S. negotiators were hoping the Israelis and Palestinians "can come together and work through these difficult issues" in the next two days.
"They understand they're working toward that (Wednesday deadline), Lockhart said. "The pace and the intensity have both quickened."
He added, "I think we made clear at the beginning of the process what the schedule was. We knew that the issues were well known. It's certainly our hope that the parties can come together and work through these difficult issues before the president needs to leave."
Officials said Clinton was postponing a White House reception on Tuesday to honor the St. Louis Rams Super Bowl champions, so he could focus all his attention on the peace talks.
CNN Senior White House Correspondent John King contributed to this report.
Camp David talks resume formally after Sabbath break
The Israeli Government's Official Website, by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
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