Barak, Arafat to hold first one-on-one talks of summit

Posted: Thursday, July 13, 2000

THURMONT, Md. (AP) - With a self-imposed deadline exactly two months away, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat are grappling with the ``tough issues'' that must be resolved to conclude a peace accord.

They decided on their own to meet face-to-face Wednesday night in Arafat's Birch cabin at Camp David, which the late Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin occupied 22 years ago in negotiating peace terms with Egypt's Anwar Sadat.

Diplomatic sources said the talks were serious but did not produce a breakthrough on any of the core issues.

These include the future of Jerusalem, the fate of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and in Gaza, and whether more than 2 million Palestinian refugees will be given the right to return to homes in Israel.

Barak signaled before the summit that he would agree to a Palestinian foothold in predominantly Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem, would roll up most of the settlements and accept thousands of Palestinians who have families living in Israel.

By contrast, Arafat has given no indication publicly that his demands for virtually all of the West Bank and a state with its capital in Jerusalem are negotiable.

President Clinton, who has expressed hope for an agreement before his scheduled departure for Japan for an economic summit meeting in less than a week, turned the reins over to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright for most of Thursday. She planned to meet with both leaders and their delegations, later in the day.

``The secretary will continue the pattern of meetings that have been occurring over the last two days, and will continue to work on moving the ball forward,'' the summit spokesman Richard Boucher said, without disclosing specific plans for Thursday's sessions.

Clinton, addressing the NAACP convention in Baltimore, said he hoped the summit would ``resolve the profound differences that have kept the people of the Middle East apart for a very long time.''

Invoking the memory of the late civil rights crusader Martin Luther King Jr., Clinton told NAACP delegates, ``I know that in our quest for a full, fair and final peace - which Dr. King reminded us is more than the absence of war but the presence of justice and brotherhood and genuine reconciliation - I know we will have your prayers and your best wishes.

``Because you embody the spirit of freedom and reconciliation we're trying to capture there, that we need so badly in our talks,'' the president said.

The White House adhered to its refusal to discuss the substance of the peace talks. And Boucher, who filled in for presidential spokesman Joe Lockhart, followed the instruction.

``Welcome to the daily press blackout,'' he told reporters at the outset.

And that was about all he had to say.

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