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CNN Today

White House Expresses Optimism on Future of Middle East Peace Talks

Aired December 27, 2000 - 4:20 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: And with time running out on his term in office, President Clinton is pushing hard for this Mid-East agreement.

CNN's Major Garrett joins us from the White House with more about that -- Major.

MAJOR GARRETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Lou. Well, the president's made a few phone calls today on that front, trying to nail down support in the Arab world for Yasser Arafat's continued involvement in this reach for peace in the final days of the Clinton administration.

From the White House here today, the President called Saudi Arabia's King Fahd and Jordan's King Abdullah, winning from them at least conditional acceptance of Mr. Arafat continuing along this path to peace.

Now, the President also took a few questions at an earlier press availability here at the White House. Here's what he had to say about the status of the peace negotiations.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The parties are engaged in a renewed effort to reach an agreement. Based on the months and months of discussion I've had on these final status issues, we have attempted to narrow the range of outstanding matters in a way that meets the essential needs of both sides. The whole question now is whether they agree continue to agree the negotiation on the basis of these ideas.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GARRETT: A crucial point there, Lou. What the president is actually saying is that what he has proposed is an outline, a set of contours. One senior administration official describes it to CNN as the foul lines on a baseball field so everyone understands the dimensions of the field they're going to play on.

But as the president said, it will be up to the Palestinians and the Israelis themselves to negotiate the final, nitty-gritty details of things like Palestinian refugees, exact sovereignty down to the almost block-by-block of East Jerusalem and Jerusalem and some of these holy sites you referred to earlier. That's yet to come, but there is some degree of optimism here at the White House that there is movement toward that kind of hard bargaining, and it may come in the not-too-distant future -- Lou.

WATERS: But Major, we just heard the Palestinian negotiator tell us that the proposals are too vague, that they need more?

GARRETT: There's actually, from the White House perspective, at least, Lou, two layers of this conversation going on. There is the public layer in which Palestinian and Israeli leaders make pronouncements that they believe will be heard most directly by their core constituencies.

And then there's a second layer of conversations, the one that happened completely in private; the one going on between the president and his top advisers and the top advisers to Mr. Arafat and Mr. Barak. It's at that level where more movement has been noted by White House officials and what they're saying is, quite pointedly here at the White House, is what the Palestinians are saying privately is that they need more time to make sure that if they do move forward in some of the contour areas the president has outlined, they will do so with the support of the Arab world -- something they did not have in July at Camp David, and that's what they're looking at now -- Lou.

WATERS: All right, Major Garrett at the White House.

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