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Clinton, Netanyahu See 'Renewed Sense of Promise'

President tucks in strong statement supporting CIA nominee Lake

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WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Feb. 13) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Bill Clinton emerged from a cordial afternoon meeting hailing the "renewed sense of promise in the Middle East" that recent Israeli-Palestinian agreements have brought, and expressing hope about the possibility of peace between Israel and Syria.

"I'm hopeful we can get the Syrian track going again ... I do feel encouraged by the discussions we've had that there are things worth working on, but I have nothing specific to say at this time," Clinton said.

The meeting was the first between the American and Israeli heads of state since Israel turned the West Bank town of Hebron over to the Palestinian Authority last month. Clinton praised Netanyahu for that development, saying he and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat "have reached a milestone on the way to a secure and lasting peace."

The meeting focused on how to move forward from the Hebron accord. "We have an opportunity to build on the new momentum coming out of last month's agreement," Clinton said. "It must not be wasted.

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"The release of Palestinian prisoners earlier this week was an important sign of Israel's respect for past agreements, and its willingness to take into account Palestinian needs," Clinton added. "Both sides must show the same kind of determination as they seek to resolve, on the basis of reciprocity, the issues that remain."

"The challenges will be great. But the prime minister and Chairman Arafat have shown that the will is there. Just as America has been by Israel's side each step of the way, in the journey that lies ahead, we will help Israel and its partners move forward."

For his part, Netanyahu said, "I come out of these meetings with renewed confidence in our ability to progress on that road."

Clinton and Netanyahu also addressed the possible U.S. sale of F-16 aircraft to Saudi Arabia. Netanyahu has been quoted as saying Israel would view such a sale "with severity." Clinton told reporters that the Saudis have not asked to buy any of the fighter planes, and that he believes the strong relationship the U.S. has maintained with Saudi Arabia has contributed to Israel's security.

"Obviously," the president added, "any request they would make of us, we would have to seriously consider, but any decision that I make about that has to be made in a way that is consistent with our first commitment, which is to do nothing that will undermine the qualitative edge of Israeli security forces in the Middle East."

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At the end of the press conference, Clinton made a point of addressing a question that wasn't asked: Does he still support Tony Lake, his embattled pick to head the CIA?

He does. The president called on Congress to get Lake's nomination moving, and cited Lake's work in Bosnia as contributing to his "superb" qualifications for the CIA job. "We've now answered all the questions that we've been asked," Clinton said. "We sent it up to the committee, and I think he ought to be given a hearing and a vote.

"It was Tony Lake who came up with the strategy that we implemented to end the bloodiest war in Europe since World War II," Clinton said. "He deserves -- his service to this country deserves -- a hearing and a vote on the floor of the Senate and I hope he will get it."


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