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Middle East Peace Summit: Talks Continue as Secretary of State Albright Steps in for President Clinton

Aired July 20, 2000 - 2:04 p.m. ET

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

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: With the American host on the road for four days, Camp David peace negotiators say it's a good time to refresh, refocus and reassess. Still, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will try to steer the Palestinians and the Israelis toward agreement in President Clinton's absence.

CNN's Andrea Koppel is covering the talks. She joins us now -- Andrea.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Natalie, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright plans to doing that, say U.S. officials, by holding mostly informal meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat during President Clinton's absence. She's expected to meet with both of these men separately this afternoon. She also had a meeting with her U.S. negotiating team now that she is the chief U.S. mediator on the grounds at Camp David after somewhat of a late start. You'll remember, in the last several days, negotiators from all teams have been going around the clock. They needed to get some sleep.

Now, as to what to expect over the next several days during President Clinton's absense, U.S. officials say that they'll be working hard to narrow differences, don't expect any big breakthroughs, although U.S. officials saying, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher a short time ago, that the U.S. will be taking these negotiations very seriously.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD BOUCHER, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: I think it's clear that we want to use this period productively. The secretary shares the president's determination to move forward on the issues. She is looking to put together as much as we can the positions of the parties and see how we can move all the issues forward. So the determination is there, the effort is certainly not slackened in any way, and I think the parties wouldn't be here, we wouldn't be here, if we didn't think there was some potential.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOPPEL: Some potential, Natalie, but not necessarily going to expect a breakthrough even after President Clinton returns. Before he left, of course, last-minute shuttling, lots of hurried activity, trying in the last minute to try to get a deal on this most -- actually, the sticking point, really, which is Jerusalem, trying to get some sort of compromise so that both the Palestinian and the Israelis can have their respective capitals in Jerusalem.

But, as we know now, President Clinton, in the very, very last minute, had his bags packed, his team was outside in the car ready to head to the airport to go to Jerusalem -- excuse me, to go to the economic summit in Japan, and, lo and behold, both the Israeli prime minister, who you're looking at right now, and the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, saying, we'll stay; we'd be very happy to continue talking with Madeleine Albright until President Clinton returns from Okinawa, that economic summit.

To give you a sense of just how quickly and how suddenly things changed, this is the headline from today's "USA Today." You can see that their deadline happened a little bit earlier: "Mideast Talks Failed." That was what most reporters did file before they found out a little after midnight that, in fact, they hadn't failed, that they where going to be continuing.

No idea as to whether or not, when President Clinton returns, Natalie, he'll be able to break the impasse, but negotiations are continuing.

ALLEN: All right, Andrea Koppel near Camp David, thanks.

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