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Arafat meets with Mubarak as Mideast summit collapses

CAIRO, Egypt (CNN) -- Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat is meeting the Egyptian president on Thursday, after plans for a three-way summit with Israel collapsed.

A planned summit, which had been expected at Sharm el-Sheikh, was called off early on Thursday.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak then announced he would not attend a meeting with Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak until the outcome of the meeting between Mubarak and Arafat was known.

Arafat left Gaza for Egypt early on Thursday for a meeting with his long-time friend Mubarak to discuss peace proposals made by President Bill Clinton after Israeli and Palestinian officials met in Washington last week.

Egyptian Deputy Defence Minister Ephraim Sneh told CNN no such summit was planned "for the time being," but added that it "is not officially cancelled."

White House officials said a meeting between Arafat and Mubarak would be crucial, while a meeting between Arafat and Barak would be considered a bonus -- one that could provide an extra boost to peace talks.

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The White House is looking for Mubarak -- a chief co-sponsor of the peace process and leader of moderate Arab nations -- to give Arafat a green light to keep negotiating.

If Arafat notifies the White House that he wants to pursue negotiations, the White House would interpret that as a sign Arafat has Arab support to make tough compromises.

Senior Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erakat told CNN early on Thursday that Palestinians are still considering the Clinton proposals and are consulting Arab countries and "friends" all around the world.

Erakat says the agreement must be clarified by the Americans and the Israelis.

"It's about details of maps, details of roads, about borders, details about refugees, about Jerusalem," Erakat said.

Erakat says Arafat is ready "in principle" to hold face to face talks with Barak, but said "the last thing you want to do now is to take both sides to the summit, each side understanding the ideas the way they want to -- and then when they are struck with reality, you are gonna have an explosion again."

Erakat described the status of the peace process as "very very difficult," saying "these are the issues that make Palestinians breathe -- Jerusalem, settlement, refugees. The Israelis have said if the Palestinians will accept we will accept, which makes more pressure on us."

After two long meetings on Wednesday of the Israeli Cabinet, ministers decided that Clinton's proposals for a peace accord were "an acceptable basis for negotiations," Sneh said.

The White House received a letter from Arafat on Wednesday regarding the Clinton proposals, but U.S. officials said the response "is not an acceptance or a rejection."

Sneh said Israelis were concerned about access to holy sites in Jerusalem, security issues and Palestinian refugees, but he said he believed it is possible to work out those details.

"We still believe that there is a way to achieve quite soon an agreement, but it takes two to tango and the Palestinian side has to display a flexibility," he said.

Sneh said the two sides should take advantage of Clinton's help.

"What we can do is to take advantage of the three weeks left for a very helpful, very energetic American president that wants, that is eager to facilitate the Israeli-Palestinian peace," he told CNN.

"Even after January 20, the parties can continue with negotiations, but we believe that a lot can be done and should be done in the next couple of weeks."

In Washington, officials were trying to find out if the cancellation of the summit was definite.



RELATED STORIES:
Clinton expects to hear from Arafat, Barak by Wednesday
December 26, 2000
Fighting, talks loom over Bethlehem
December 25, 2000
Mideast peace at 'moment of truth'
December 24, 2000
Mideast talks inconclusive
December 23, 2000
Mike Hanna: Mideast officials on each side under pressure at home
December 22, 2000
Mideast negotiators 'reducing the differences'
December 22, 2000

RELATED SITES:
Israel Defense Forces (in Hebrew)
Israeli Prime Minister's Office
Palestinian Authority President
The White House

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