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Special Event

Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks Conclude at White House

Aired December 23, 2000 - 12:48 p.m. ET

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

GENE RANDALL, ANCHOR: I'm Gene Randall in Washington. We're going to the White House now, where a meeting between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators has just ended.

This is Saeb Erakat, the chief Palestinian negotiator.

SAEB ERAKAT, CHIEF PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATOR: (SPEAKING IN ARABIC)

We had five days of intensive, serious talks. It's been tough, it's been difficult. The gaps are there. We exerted maximum efforts, and we will continue to exert maximum efforts in order to conclude an agreement that will implement resolutions 242 and 338 and 194.

I would like to reiterate that major gaps still exist. This morning, we've heard ideas from President Clinton. We will convey to President Arafat, and then we'll take it from there as to what will be the next step.

Thank you.

(CROSSTALK)

What?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What sort of ideas did he offer?

ERAKAT: He gave a recap of things, how he see things should move, and we will convey this.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) all issues, Mr. Minister, are there gaps on all issues? Because we have the impression that you may (UNINTELLIGIBLE) headway to your goals on Jerusalem, but there's a big difference on the refugees. Is that a fair interpretation?

ERAKAT: I can fairly say that there is differences, there are differences on refugees, there are differences on Jerusalem, there are differences on security, and there are differences on territorial issues.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (speaks in Arabic) ERAKAT: (speaks in Arabic)

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sir, what's the next step, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) an agreement before President Clinton leaves office, and is that providing some motivation in your discussions, the president's upcoming departure?

ERAKAT: Well, I think President Arafat made it very clear that he would love very much to see an agreement concluded during President Clinton's presidency. That's what we're here for. And as I said, we are exerting maximum efforts, but at the same time, I'm not undermining the difficulties and gaps.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So will you still be meeting?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... conversely, should they -- should there not be an agreement, do you think that there will be a continuum into the next administration, that the next administration would have something to work with, to proceed from? Or do you suppose they'd have to start all over?

ERAKAT: Sir, I think trying to make peace between Palestinians and Israelis and between Arabs and Israeli is not something of a favor that we ask Palestinians to do to the Israelis or...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I didn't mean that.

ERAKAT: ... or a favor they do to us. We do it because of the need to do it, and we do it because of the interest to do it. And I think the United States has interest, and I don't think we should start re-eating the apple every time we talk about this.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sir, are there more meetings? What is the next step here?

ERAKAT: The next step is that we're going to the airport now.

Thank you.

(CROSSTALK)

ERAKAT: What?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did President Clinton say anything about sending (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

ERAKAT: No, no, there's -- nothing is agreed in terms of what the next step. The next step will be determined through the contacts, communications, between us and the Americans (UNINTELLIGIBLE)... (CROSSTALK)

ERAKAT: ... in the next few days. I will say on the summit meeting that all parties have agreed not to convene a summit unless the -- an insurance of success is provided for. I don't think the Israelis or the Palestinians or the Americans want a summit before ensuring its success. So no summit will be held. It wasn't discussed even that much unless we can ensure (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

(SPEAKING IN ARABIC)

Thank you very much.

RANDALL: The Palestinian chief negotiator, Saeb Erakat, at the White House, saying that after five days of talks between Israel and the Palestinians, including a just-concluded session at the White House, major gaps remain, key sticking points. Once again, Jerusalem and the return of Palestinian refugees, along with security.

Mr. Erakat said President Clinton, when he was in the meeting today, had put forward some ideas, which he, Erakat, will take back with him to Palestinian Authority president Yasser Arafat.

He also said that the sides have agreed there will be no summit unless it seems likely there will be an agreement.

Andrea Koppel is standing by for us at the State Department.

Andrea, you were hearing earlier that differences had been narrowed. Tell us more about that.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we'd been hearing from the Israelis that they had put forward a proposal to give sovereignty to the Palestinians over Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and also over holy sites in Jerusalem. This had been a key demand of the Palestinians, something, in fact, that caused the collapse of last July's Camp David peace talks, Yasser Arafat holding firm not only for the Palestinian people but also for the Arab world, which reveres the holy sites in particular within the old city.

Now, having said that, Gene, even though it sounds as if Saeb Erakat is striking a somewhat pessimistic note, this is to be expected. Throughout the week, the Palestinians have seemed much less upbeat than the Israelis. The U.S. officials have maintained as well that there would be no breakthrough during this week of talks, and there would be no announcement after these talks, immediately after these talks, as to what the next step would be.

Mr. Erakat saying that he has to return to the region to consult with Yasser Arafat, we can expect to hear similar things from the Israeli foreign minister, Shlomo Ben-Ami, if he in fact does address reporters outside the White House.

But at this point, what we can expect is for both delegations to return to the region to brief their leaders, and President Clinton and his team will be huddling at the White House to make a decision as to what their assessment of the prospects of a peace deal might be within the next month, and whether or not they feel that the pieces are in place for another summit.

And I believe that we have Shlomo Ben-Ami, who's approaching the microphones.

SHLOMO BEN-AMI, ISRAELI FOREIGN MINISTER: (SPEAKING IN HEBREW)

RANDALL: This is the Israeli foreign minister, Shlomo Ben-Ami, on the White House, and until he begins speaking in English, we can tell you a bit about what Saeb Erakat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said just a few moments ago.

Among other things, he said that Palestinian Authority president Yasser Arafat is very anxious that there be a settlement concluded with the Israeli side while President Clinton is still in office. And that apparently accounts for the past five days of talks here in Washington, including the session which has just wrapped up at the White House.

Mr. Erakat said that President Clinton had put forward some ideas, which he will carry to the region, to Yasser Arafat, shortly. And once again, the wrap-up to five days of talks at the White House, Mr. Erakat said, and I expect we'll hear the same thing from Mr. Ben- Ami, that major gaps remain over such crucial issues as the future status of Jerusalem.

Andrea, I suppose it is no surprise that Erakat said that he'd like to see an agreement before President Clinton leaves office.

KOPPEL: Certainly, Gene, more than any other U.S. president, the Palestinians feel that President Clinton has not only listened to what the Palestinians have to say but understands and appreciates their position.

Let's go back to Shlomo Ben-Ami.

BEN-AMI: ... but I feel that it was a very encouraging round of talks. We will go back to report to the leaders, and we expect that by Wednesday they will be in a position to report back to the president on whether or not they see the ideas and the concepts that were discussed here as an appropriate basis for them proceeding with meetings with the president and all -- and later on, perhaps, even a summit.

But this is still too early to confirm. That is, we need to deliberate between ourselves on whether we see these ideas that were raised here as a basis for an end game.

(CROSSTALK)

BEN-AMI: No, we are not going to spell out any particular detail here. What -- the essence of our message is that the talks were serious, were encouraging, and we see that there is room for proceeding in these negotiations.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... ideas of substance, or of process, sir? How to go forward, or ideas of what should be on the table?

BEN-AMI: Both.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is there any talk of sending -- the Americans sending an envoy?

BEN-AMI: Well, they will have to decide. We have a slight decision to make, and that is, how are we going to fill these days between now and a possible visit of the leaders to -- here to Washington, a possible visit, not confirmed yet. I guess that one possible way to fill it is by the teams meeting within themselves to clarify the situation.

Thank you very much.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Separate meetings, separate meetings, with the president?

BEN-AMI: This is the initial idea, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is Wednesday a deadline for responding, then?

BEN-AMI: No, the deadline is in the state of the situation, the situation itself. As you can see, the president will be leaving office on the 20th of January, so we need to have a clear calendar.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No more today, then, everyone back to the airport and go home?

BEN-AMI: Yes, today we are going to have some jogging.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have a good jog, sir.

RANDALL: Israeli foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami after a session at the White House with the Palestinian side and President Clinton in attendance for at least part of the time.

He said it was a very encouraging session. We did not get that impression from Saeb Erakat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, when he was at the microphones just a few moments ago.

We'll be back in just a moment.

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