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Mideast talks continue into a second day

Netanyahu with aides  

In this story:

May 4, 1998
Web posted at: 7:59 p.m. EDT (2359 GMT)

LONDON (CNN) -- U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright gave Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a night to make his mind up on the future of Middle East peace efforts after a day of intensive talks in London Monday.

Albright held two meetings with Netanyahu and one with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in a bid to revive peace negotiations stalled for 14 months and avert more violence in the volatile region.

State Department spokesman James Rubin said contacts would continue during the night and that Albright would meet Netanyahu again Tuesday morning. She will meet with Arafat afterward.

Albright had planned to meet with Arafat Monday night after her second meeting with Netanyahu, but she returned instead to her hotel to sleep. She met Monday morning with Netanyahu for 4 1/2 hours, and in the afternoon with Arafat before meeting again with Netanyahu.

She is trying to negotiate the scale and timing of an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and to come up with commensurate security measures to be taken by the Palestinians.


Netanyahu is focus

Israel has been resisting an American proposal that reportedly calls on Israel to hand over 13 percent of the territory it occupies.

Israeli officials at first indicated that no more than 9 percent of the land could be ceded to the Palestinians, but recently indicated that Netanyahu may agree to 11 percent beyond the 27 percent already turned over.

The Israelis are also seeking a guarantee that Arafat will not unilaterally declare a state when the deadline for a final status agreement expires in exactly one year's time on May 4, 1999, diplomats said.

That Albright spent far less time with Arafat is an indication, according to one U.S. insider, that Netanyahu is the key to the current round of talks.

Arafat agrees.

"If Prime Minister Netanyahu is sincerely concerned and interested in peace," Arafat said, "today is the day. It is now, the moment."

"A peace process cannot live on procrastination," said Nabil Shaath, Arafat's adviser. "We need to hear it as it really is. Is he going through this peace process or is he not?"

'Hoping for the best, preparing for the worst'

"We are hoping for the best and preparing for the worst," said Albright's spokesman, James P. Rubin, before Albright entered her second meeting with Netanyahu.

Alluding to the plans for more talks Tuesday, Rubin added, "Clearly the timetable has been extended. We are ever so slightly more hopeful."

But he told reporters that "we do not have compelling evidence the meetings will yield a breakthrough" and warned of "grave risks of disillusionment and violence in the Middle East."

The agreement Albright is pushing could put the Palestinians and the Israelis on a collision course for their most contentious disputes yet.

Albright wants Netanyahu and Arafat to meet together while both are in London and to agree on a date for the start of talks that will determine the final status of the West Bank and Jerusalem.

She also wants them to agree to the dates for the completion of two more rounds of Israeli troop withdrawals.

No face-to-face discussions between Netanyahu and Arafat were scheduled, however. They first met separately with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who was hosting the meetings, and then in turn with Albright, the principal mediator.

Netanyahu softens somewhat

Netanyahu, who began the day saying he did not expect much progress, softened his tone after a long 4 1/2-hour meeting with Albright.

"We want to bring about a breakthrough," Netanyahu said. "We also want to bring about an end to the suffering and the conflict between the two peoples."

Arafat agreed to an Albright request to remain an extra day in London so that the Americans can try to achieve a breakthrough, said Shaath.

But Arafat looked grim as he returned to his hotel after his 90-minute session with Albright, and Shaath accused Netanyahu of trying to "waste time to destroy the process."

"We and the Americans have said we wanted a breakthrough in London, but they don't want a breakthrough," Shaath said. "They want to obstruct, procrastinate and play for time. Arafat is frustrated."

Arafat has said that if he does not get what he wants through negotiations, he will declare Palestinian statehood unilaterally next May.

Netanyahu said he wanted assurances that Arafat would not declare sovereignty, and that the United States would not recognize such a move.

"We have come here to avoid unilateral acts," he said, using the Israeli euphemism for a declaration of statehood.

'We are all here in the same town'

Netanyahu said he and Albright had explored a different formula, perhaps one that would advance areas other than the land dispute, and that he and Albright had discussed a wide range of topics.

Asked whether he might meet directly with Arafat rather than negotiating through Albright, Netanyahu said: "We are all here in the same town. Physically it is possible. All three of us have to judge the benefit of such a meeting."

However, a Palestinian official in Jerusalem said Arafat would only accept such a meeting if there was a deal or if Albright formally offered the American proposal as an official document.

The two last met in October.

Correspondent Ralph Begleiter and Reuters contributed to this report.


Struggle For Peace
B A C K G R O U N D   I    K E Y   P L A Y E R S   I   M A P S


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