Archive for Friday, July 21, 2000

Albright keeps ball rolling at summit

July 21, 2000


— The Mideast summit, resurrected only hours after its reported demise, moved forward Thursday with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright stepping in for the traveling President Clinton. "She will try to close the gaps" that loom large between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, her spokesman said.

"The same pattern and intensity will be maintained," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

With the summit in its 10th day, weariness loomed as a factor.

But Boucher dismissed any suggestion that Barak or Arafat would be worn down into making dangerous concessions.

"We don't think any of these leaders is going to compromise on any issue that is not in the best interest of his people because he is tired," Boucher said.

Shortly after the White House announced late Wednesday night that the summit had ended without agreement, Barak and Arafat reversed course and decided to stay at Camp David, Md., while Clinton attended a three-day economic summit conference in Japan.

In the first nine days of talks, the two sides were unable to agree on the boundaries of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip or the fate of several million Palestinian refugees. But the real deal-breaker, by all accounts, was Jerusalem, the ancient city claimed by both sides as their capital.

Working to break the impasse, Albright twice met separately Thursday with Barak and Arafat.

"She is looking to put together, as much as we can, the positions of the parties and see how we can move all the issues forward," Boucher said. "So the determination is there.... She's here to carry the ball forward."

The summit appeared over late Wednesday. A White House spokesman announced the talks had ended with no agreement. Barak prepared to make a statement. Arafat's departure was set for midnight.

And then, suddenly, word leaked out that Arafat and Barak were staying. In fact, U.S., Israeli and Palestinian negotiators had continued to meet even while the summit's end was being announced.

"Nobody wanted to give up," Clinton told a post-midnight news conference. The administration declined to say whose idea it was to stay.

Boucher insisted the declaration of the summit's demise was not theatrics.

"The cars were lined up, bags were packed, people were ready to go, the motorcade was ready to leave," he said. "This was real."

In the Middle East, Jordan's King Abdullah II met Thursday outside Amman with former Israeli President Ezer Weizman. They discussed ways to overcome obstacles in Middle East peacemaking, and the king later telephoned Arafat, Jordanian officials said on customary condition of anonymity.

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