Clinton Denies Imposing Deadline In Mideast Peace Talks
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, May 6) -- President Bill Clinton on Wednesday denied accusations that the United States is imposing a deadline for the resumption of Middle East peace talks, saying neither "Israel or any other country should accept the dictates of the United States in a peace process."
Speaking at a joint news conference with Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, Clinton told reporters the United States has been working for two years to find a "formula" for continued talks on behalf of Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization.
However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is unsatisfied with Washington's proposal for the Israeli withdrawal of troops from the West Bank and said he is unsure if he will attend a summit in Washington next week. That proposal has been agreed to by PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat.
House Speaker Newt Gingrich sent a letter to Clinton Wednesday, urging him to change the U.S. position, saying America should be a "facilitator, not a bully" in the Middle East peace process.
In his letter, Gingrich said, "I strongly believe that genuine and lasting peace in Israel can only be achieved through voluntary direct dialogue between the parties, and not as a result of heavy-handed outside pressure by the United States. Israel must be able to decide her own security needs and set her own conditions for negotiation without facing coercion from the U.S."
At a news conference to discuss the letter, Gingrich said "the Clinton Administration continues to be pro-Arafat, continues to prop up the Palestinian position and has now moved in a public way to deliver an ultimatum: decide by next week or else. You can only come to Washington if you do what the Clinton Administration dictates.
"Now that is precisely the opposite of what was promised. What was promised was that the United States would convene meetings in which the two parties would negotiate. Now its become the Clinton Administration and Arafat against Israel," Gingrich said.
Rep. Bill Paxon (R-N.Y.) called it "so absolutely outrageous that the Clinton Administration over the past several months has pursued a policy that is nothing short of extortion."
He said Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) will hold a news conference on Wednesday afternoon to release another bipartisan letter, signed by more than 218 members of the House, telling the administration "we must not treat a friend and ally the way you are treating Israel."
During his news conference, Clinton said the U.S. involvement over the last year has been to "listen to both parties, look at the situation on the ground, understand their respective concerns and come forward with a set of ideas that we believe are most likely to get the parties to final status talks."
He pointed out that those talks are scheduled for completion a year from May, by the agreement of both parties involved.
CNN's Ann Curley contributed to this report.