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CNN Today

President Clinton Considered Indispensable in Middle East Quest for Peace

Aired May 31, 2000 - 2:31 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: At a U.S.-European summit today, President Clinton said the United States is willing to share antimissile knowledge with allies. At the meeting in Portugal, Mr. Clinton faced concern over his plan to consider a system to shoot down enemy missiles. The president said his technology-sharing pledge would extend to the Russians, who have expressed the greatest worry with Washington's antimissile planning.

Mr. Clinton has changed his schedule and will meet with the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, tomorrow in Lisbon instead of Berlin, as originally planned. The change was requested by Israel for reasons still unclear.

As CNN's Mike Hanna reports from Jerusalem, Mr. Clinton is seen in the Middle East as an indispensable factor in the lengthy search for peace.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MIKE HANNA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Testing times for Ehud Barak. While celebrating the occupation of East Jerusalem, which led to Israel's declaration of a united capital 33 three years ago, the prime minister's mind is more on the immediate future. In particular, a summit meeting with the U.S. president that could prove critical in galvanizing a lagging peace process.

He'll report completion of a successful withdrawal from South Lebanon, and will brief President Clinton on the current state of negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. Talks were put on hold during the recent outbreak of violence in Palestinian territories, as was Israel's promise to hand over three Jerusalem suburbs to full Palestinian control. And among negotiators, a deep awareness that time may be running out, along with the term of the Clinton administration, which has played a central role in the peace process.

SHLOMO BEN-AMI, ISRAELI NEGOTIATOR: This is an administration that was born with the peace process in 1992, and we all expect to reach an agreement with the assistance of this administration. So we should do our utmost to reach a framework of agreement by mid-June. That is, we don't have much time.

"We now know exactly where each side stands and yet we're still stuck," says Saab Erakat. SAAB ERAKAT, CHIEF PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATOR: The only thing that would revive the process, the only thing that may put the peace process back on track and may have openings is the personal intervention of President Clinton.

HANNA: The seventh anniversary of the signing of the Oslo Peace Accords is only a matter of months away. The intention was that by September the 13th, 2000, there would be agreement on a final peace accord.

(on camera): But after all these years of talks, publicly at least, agreement appears as far away as ever, and both sides are now looking to a U.S. administration in its last months to help bridge what clearly remains a yawning divide.

Mike Hanna, CNN, Jerusalem.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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