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Mideast summit in Egypt called off
CAIRO, Egypt (CNN) -- The summit planned for Thursday in Sharm el-Sheikh between Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat has been temporarily called off, a source close to the Egyptian president told CNN.
In Jerusalem, Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh told CNN no such meeting is planned "for the time being," but added that it "is not officially canceled."
Early Thursday morning, sources said a meeting planned for 11:30 a.m. in Cairo between Mubarak and Arafat was still scheduled, and that the Egyptian president and Barak were still planning to meet in Sharm el-Sheikh later in the day. The only question is whether Barak and Arafat will hold a session together.
The meetings in Egypt are expected to deal with proposals made by President Bill Clinton after last week's sessions in Washington with Israeli and Palestinians officials.
Arafat-Mubarak meeting called crucial
White House officials said the crucial meeting in Cairo would be between Arafat and Mubarak. If Arafat and Barak were to meet the White House would consider that a bonus -- one that could provide an extra boost to peace talks.
The White House is looking for Mubarak, a chief co-sponsor of the peace process and leader of moderate Arab nations, to give Arafat a green light to keep negotiating. If Arafat notifies the White House that he wants to pursue negotiations, the White House would interpret that as a sign Arafat has Arab support to make tough compromises.
Clinton's proposals require sacrifices on both sides.
Israelis open to U.S. proposal
After two long meetings Wednesday of the Israeli Cabinet, ministers decided that President Clinton's proposals for a peace accord were "an acceptable basis for negotiations," Sneh said.
He said holding the summit would depend on the Palestinian side's acceptance of Clinton's suggestions.
"So far it is not officially canceled," Sneh said. "There was an idea promoted by the Egyptian president, Mubarak, and the details of such a meeting at this very moment are not known. The scheduled time is tomorrow evening and it's a long, long time here. Many things can be changed."
The White House received a letter from Arafat on Wednesday regarding the Clinton proposals, but U.S. officials said the response "is not an acceptance or a rejection."
Palestinians seeking 'clarification'
A senior Palestinian official told CNN the letter asks for "clarification" on areas of the proposals, specifically about sovereignty over the Temple Mount, Palestinian refugees and "some security aspects."
The Palestinian official said Arafat has also asked for maps to illustrate proposed areas of Palestinian control.
"It is very ambiguous as it stands. We need a more technical explanation," the official said.
Sneh said Israelis were concerned about access to holy sites in Jerusalem, security issues and Palestinian refugees, but he said he believed it is possible to work out those details.
"We still believe that there is a way to achieve quite soon an agreement, but it takes two to tango and the Palestinian side has to display a flexibility," he said.
Sneh said the two sides should take advantage of President Clinton's help.
"What we can do is to take advantage of the three weeks left for a very helpful, very energetic American president that wants, that is eager to facilitate the Israeli-Palestinian peace," he told CNN. "Even after January 20th, the parties can continue with negotiations, but we believe that a lot can be done and should be done in the next couple of weeks."
In Washington, officials were trying to find out if the cancellation of the summit was definite.
Senior Clinton administration officials told CNN earlier this week that the president's proposals were not a surprise to either the Israelis or Palestinians, but were ideas that arose out of intense negotiations.
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators asked Clinton to present his suggestions in a public manner, so that both sides could take the suggestions to their people for approval. If no great problems were found in the proposals, they could be used as a starting point for further negotiations.
The official said if the Israelis and Palestinians accepted Clinton's peace outlines, the president would invite each leader to Washington for separate meetings. After those talks the White House might convene a second Camp David-style summit with the goal of hammering out and signing a final, comprehensive peace deal.
Clinton expects to hear from Arafat, Barak by Wednesday
Israel Defense Forces (in Hebrew)
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