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U.S. Institute for Peace: Deal Still Possible in Middle East Talks

Aired July 20, 2000 - 2:31 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: President Clinton will arrive in Japan in about three hours for the G-8 economic summit. He left the Camp David summit behind today, heading for Okinawa with daughter Chelsea in the wee hours.

In the president's absence, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will shepherd the talks between the Israelis and Palestinians. Sources on both sides of the negotiating table tell CNN the status of Jerusalem is the major stumbling block. These sources say there's agreement on other big issues, such as Israeli recognition of a Palestinian state.

ANDRIA HALL, CNN ANCHOR: With the president's powerful personality absent at Camp David, what can we expect from the summit in the coming days? Let's ask a Middle East expert. Jon Alterman is with the U.S. Institute for Peace and he joins us live from Washington.

Mr. Alterman, thanks for being with us.

JON ALTERMAN, U.S. INSTITUTE FOR PEACE: My pleasure.

HALL: President Clinton not expected to come back until Sunday. Would you describe what is going to occur over the next few days more of a cooling-off period?

ALTERMAN: It's partly a cooling-off period, it's partly an opportunity for the U.S. side to come up with some more bridging proposals, it's partly an opportunity for the two sides to talk within themselves and to begin to come up with some new ideas to solve the differences that remain. Certainly the fact that both sides want to be there is a sign that both sides still think this deal is gettable and it's a deal worth getting.

HALL: And the fact that there is going to be this time in the interim where Madeleine Albright will be presiding over these talks is not necessarily going to be wasted. Clearly it's not going to be wasted, but would you say that it's possible that it could be productive?

ALTERMAN: I think it could be very productive. Remember that last Saturday they took off for the Jewish Sabbath. I think they'll be taking next Saturday -- or this coming Saturday off as well. So we're really only talking about another couple of days. It would have been an extraordinary, extraordinary feat to get the kinds of agreements they need in only eight or nine days of the summit. Camp David in 1978 took 12 days and, in many ways, those were easier issues. So I think that things are very much in place still and we may still have some good news coming out of the summit.

HALL: Of course, we know that there's very little news coming out of the summit because of the news blackout, but we are told that Madeleine Albright will continue efforts in closing the gaps and moving forward on the issues. What do you really expect to see happen?

ALTERMAN: The fact that the parties are there mean they can get a deal. I don't think Ehud Barak can go back to Israel without having some sort of deal on Jerusalem because I think everybody would wonder what kind of promises did he make on Jerusalem, and it's a highly charged issue with the Israeli public. Yasser Arafat cannot go home without some sort of promise of Palestinian statehood.

If there's a deal -- and I still think there may very well be a deal coming out of this summit -- those issues are going to be resolved. The task then will be how those parties can sell those deals to their own people, and that's where Ehud Barak has to help Yasser Arafat and Yasser Arafat has to help Ehud Barak. They have to talk across to the other community because the communities don't really trust each other. That constrains the negotiators even more.

HALL: So they actually have to have common ground not just in trying to negotiate some kind of peace settlement, but actually in order for them to both go back to their respective homelands?

ALTERMAN: That's exactly right. Where we're at now is the parties have to make a deal that has political support in each community. For that to happen, Israelis have to feel that the conflict is really going to be over. Israelis are not going to give away a lot of land and Jerusalem in the hopes of having future conflicts and resolving them. They want the conflict resolved, but they don't really trust Yasser Arafat.

Palestinians, in order to put down their arms and end the conflict and accept a smaller loaf, have to think that they will finally get independence. Only Ehud Barak can really sell that deal to the Palestinians, only Yasser Arafat can really convince Israelis that the Palestinians will not resort to armed struggle anymore.

HALL: So right now where it stands, no expectations for a breakthrough, just maintaining that momentum until Bill Clinton comes back.

Jon Alterman with the U.S. Institute for Peace, thanks for being with us here on CNN today.

ALTERMAN: Thank you very much.

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