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|12/19/98- Updated 10:45 AM ET|
Mideast summit planned in D.C.
EREZ CHECKPOINT, Gaza Strip - After lengthy talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright Wednesday announced that an Oct. 15 summit would be held in Washington to try to work out agreement on a West Bank accord.
''We made significant progress,'' she said after meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
In fact, Albright told reporters, ''We are in a far better position to finalize all the issues'' needed to conclude an agreement on the West Bank.
Albright's meetings with Arafat and Netanyahu followed up on discussion the two leaders had with President Clinton last month. At the time, Clinton invited them back to Washington to try to finalize a West Bank accord.
''The president is going to be very much involved in a lot of the detailed work,'' Albright said. ''He has a very special and uncanny ability to work with people who have difficult problems like these. He puts himself in their shoes.''
Netanyahu said progress was made on three issues, including the operation of a Palestinian industrial park in Karni on the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel.
''I can say we climbed the foothills. We still have a very large mountain to scale in Washington,'' Netanyahu told reporters after returning to Jerusalem. If the Washington summit is successful, he said, he won't rule out entering into final-status negotiations with Arafat immediately.
He said progress largely depended on the Palestinians.
''Are the Palestinians ready to fulfill their commitments, to revoke the PLO charter, to fight terror, to fulfill completely their part of the agreement under the principle of reciprocity? If the answer is yes, there will be an agreement. Period,'' Netanyahu said.
In an exchange with reporters in the Oval Office Wednesday, Clinton said he was eager for the talks to start.
''It may take more than a day, yes,'' he said. ''I asked them to black out a couple of days to come back because I think it's very important that we try to get over these last humps and get into the last stage of negotiations.
''I'm prepared to invest as much time as it takes,'' he said, adding that he would stay closely involved. ''I will be involved constantly throughout the process, yes,'' he said.
''I'm encouraged by the attitude and the sense of openness I felt from Prime Minister Netanyahu and Mr. Arafat the last time they were here,'' Clinton said. ''And if they can come back here with that spirit, we're close enough now that we can get this done. And I just hope and pray that that will happen when they come back.''
Albright praised the cooperation of Netanyahu and Arafat.
''This new spirit was very helpful and I hope very much that it will be carried on to Washington,'' she said. ''I am very realistic that there are still hard decisions to be made.''
Albright noted this was the first time that Netanyahu had ventured into Palestinian-held territory. ''These two leaders here are putting their shoulders to the wheel,'' she said.
Albright returned to the region this week at Clinton's request to try to narrow differences in advance of the summit.
She told reporters Wednesday that several issues that had been in dispute for nearly two years had been eased during her three-way meeting with Netanyahu and Arafat, which ended with a lunch of lamb and fish at Arafat's guest house on the Palestinian side.
These included Israel's projected withdrawal from more of the West Bank, establishment of an ''anti-incitement'' committee to improve security and establishment of a Palestinian industrial zone in Gaza.
She said the summit would extend over several days, telling reporters, ''We are prepared to spend some substantial time in the bargaining.''
State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said no precise site for the summit had been chosen.
Albright, Arafat and Netanyahu had a three-way handshake as they posed for photographs at the start of the low-expectation meeting.
Ruled out in advance was concluding an agreement while she is in the region. But Albright aimed to narrow unresolved issues, most particularly security measures to shield Israel from terrorism, in advance of the White House summit.
At this border crossing between Israel and Palestinian-held Gaza, Albright intended to find out whether Arafat was ready to inch closer to Netanyahu's view, which the United States basically shares, that the Palestinian authority could do more to control terrorists on territory under its control.
Albright said Tuesday there were ''tough choices that both sides have to make'' before Clinton hosts the summit with Netanyahu and Arafat. The location could be the Wye Plantation on Maryland's Eastern Shore, or somewhere else in the Washington area.
Netanyahu has basically agreed to relinquish 13% of the West Bank, on top of the 27% promised to the Palestinians earlier, with 3% set aside for a nature preserve under joint Israeli-Palestinian security control.
But with security and other issues still up in the air, Rubin said the peace process is ''not back on track'' yet.
''I think we envisage the summit as a multiday exercise where some heavy lifting is going to be required,'' Rubin said Tuesday. ''We do not envisage it as a photo-op in which everything is precooked.''
After Albright leaves the Mideast - probably Wednesday - U.S. mediator Dennis Ross and Assistant Secretary of State Martin Indyk will remain for further talks with Israeli and Palestinian officials.
By The Associated Press
Copyright 1999 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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