Albright heads for tough Mideast assignment
September 9, 1997
Web posted at: 12:30 p.m. EDT (1630 GMT)
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A nervous and volatile Mideast awaits U.S.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who left Tuesday for
her debut tour of the region. Observers say she faces a tall
order in her attempt to restart peace negotiations between
Israel and the Palestinians.
Albright's first Middle East tour since she took office in
January is scheduled to take her through Egypt, Jordan,
Syria, Saudi Arabia, Israel and areas controlled by the
Palestinian Authority. She may also visit Lebanon.
The U.S. State Department says she plans to consult with
leaders of those countries on various issues, including the
security of the Persian Gulf.
But her attempt to restart peace talks between Palestinian
and Israeli officials is the first priority. She will meet
separately with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and
Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat in the first
two days of her trip.
Last week's multi-suicide bombing in the heart of Jerusalem,
the second such bombing in five weeks, both simplifies and
complicates the secretary's mission.
Once again, the United States may turn its focus to Arafat's
attitude toward Hamas terrorists who claimed responsibility
for last week's attack.
Netanyahu has accused Arafat of facilitating their
operations, of effectively turning "the
Palestinian-controlled areas into safe havens and bases of
(109K/10 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
For the time being, the heat may be off Israel.
But the attacks have left the region on edge, a fact that may
complicate Albright's trip.
"It will take much more than one visit by Madeleine Albright
to deal with the damages inflicted on the peace process by
the government of Mr. Netanyahu," said Palestinian council
member Saeb Erekat.
The Israeli government insists that security is first
priority. But the Palestinians demand that Israel not
violate its main commitments under the 1993 Oslo interim
peace accords: to hand over more West Bank land, and to stop
settlement expansion. Israel's other peace partners, Egypt
and Jordan, have taken the Palestinian Authority's side.
The Palestinians are especially angered by a continuing major
Israeli project on Jerusalem's southeastern outskirts.
"As someone who initiated the agreement four years ago, I can
tell you both sides are not keeping to the deal," said Uri
Savir, an architect of the Oslo peace accord.
The key question in Albright's trip, analysts say, is whether
Albright will confront Netanyahu after taking on Arafat.
Analyst Makowski said he thinks she will hold off, for now.
(108K/10 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
Expectations are low that Albright will achieve much with her
trip. But all sides hope that she will at least stop a slide
into open conflict between Palestinians and Israelis.
Correspondent Jerrold Kessel contributed to this report.