Barak to back Wye accord, even if Arafat rejects proposal
July 29, 1999
From staff and wire reports
ALEXANDRIA, Egypt -- Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak pledged Thursday to carry out the Wye River peace accord that calls for Israel to pull back more troops from the West Bank, even if the Palestinians reject his request to modify it.
"I am committed to Wye, we are going to implement Wye," Barak said in Alexandria. He said Israel would modify the accord only if Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat agreed. "If not, we will continue."
"I'm really optimistic," Barak added. "We are launching once again an effort that will be ultimately successful and will change the future of the people of the Middle East."
Barak made his comments at a joint news conference after meeting for the second time in three weeks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
"The prime minister insists that he is going to honor the Wye agreement," Mubarak said.
Their meeting at the seaside Ras el-Teen palace in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria followed a disagreement Tuesday between Barak and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat on the Israeli proposal to delay the next phase of West Bank troop withdrawal, and merge implementation of the pullback with talks on a final peace deal with the Palestinians.
"I think Barak is intent on implementing the agreement and he has not said 'I will change the agreement,' but that he will implement it ... It might be delayed two or three weeks, it's no problem," Mubarak said.
"The negotiations for the final settlement could begin any time after starting the implementation of agreements. There is no problem at all," he said.
Barak, who also has pledged to resume talks with Syria and Lebanon, briefed Mubarak on his trip to Washington, his talks with Arafat and his proposal to modify the Wye River land-for-security accord.
The Israelis and Palestinians each appointed a representative to meet and discuss how to move the accord forward. They will report to Arafat and Barak within two weeks, Barak said.
The end of the two-week period coincides with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's visit to the region.
Palestinians said Barak's request that Arafat take two weeks to mull changing the accord was a waste of time.
In Cairo on Wednesday, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told reporters the proposal was completely unacceptable.
Barak has said delaying land transfers will reduce potential friction as the sides negotiate an end to conflict.
The Palestinians are eager for progress and to gain control of more West Bank territory after peacemaking largely stalled under Barak's right-wing predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu.
At their last talks on July 9, Mubarak described Barak as "a man of his word" and said he had high hopes that Israel's new prime minister would make progress but would need time to do so.
Since that meeting, Egypt has voiced concern about whether Israel's new government was prepared to carry out peace agreements the Jewish state had signed with the Palestinians.
In an interview with the state al-Gomhouria newspaper published on Thursday, Mubarak called for Israeli flexibility during negotiations, for talks on the basis of land for peace and he stressed the need to implement all accords.
Barak and Arafat gave U.S. President Bill Clinton separate telephone briefings on Wednesday about their peace talks.
"President Arafat told President Clinton that he asked Mr. Barak to implement the Wye agreement fully without any amendment or change," said Arafat adviser Nabil Abu Rdaineh.
Barak's office said Barak "thanked him (Clinton) for the time he is devoting to help advance the peace process."
U.S. National Security Adviser Sandy Berger said Barak told Arafat he would like to merge implementation of Wye with final status talks but would honor the deal if the Palestinians wish.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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