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Clinton Meets With Arafat in Washington

Aired January 2, 2001 - 4:31 p.m. ET


JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: More violence in the Middle East and another effort to end it. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat entered the White House nearly two hours ago for what was planned to be a 90- minute discussion with President Clinton. Mr. Clinton has offered a framework for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. And while the Israeli side has sent positive signals concerning the plan, the Palestinians are asking for "clarification."

Now right now, we're keeping a watch on the White House. We are anticipating in the next hour or so Mr. Arafat coming out to talk to reporters. As you can see, they have set up their microphones outside the White House.

Again, this was supposed to be a 90-minute discussion between the two leaders. However, it seems to have extended itself a bit. We are waiting to see when Mr. Arafat comes out, if he will make a comment to reporters. They, as you see, are waiting for him in the cold.

Meantime, in the Middle East, a Palestinian farmer becomes among the latest victims of violence. He was shot dead by Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip after a soldier was wounded in a nearby bomb explosion.

Joining us now from New York, an expert on the Middle East situation, Rachel Bronson, who's an analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations. We appreciate your being with us.

Can you talk to us a little bit about what the expectations are out of this meeting Mr. Arafat and President Clinton.

RACHEL BRONSON, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Sure. What the White House is looking for is basically to see whether or not Yasser Arafat will buy into the basic proposals that the White House laid out in its bridging proposals.

CHEN: But the basic proposals, I mean, isn't Mr. Arafat looking for more detail?

BRONSON: Both sides are really looking for more detail, and what the White House is saying is that these are bridging proposals, that the details are worked out in negotiation.

But basically, what they're looking at is to see, from my read on it, is to see whether or not the Israelis are willing to negotiate issues over sovereignty of Jerusalem and whether or not the Palestinians are willing to negotiate on how many refugees return to Israel. That's really what the White House is probing on, to see whether or not they can get some movement from either side.

From the Israelis, we got at first hints that they were willing to negotiate, although in the last few days domestically the positions have hardened. We're waiting to hear from the Palestinians whether or not there can be some negotiations.

After Camp David, there was some prospect that there might be room to negotiate. I think what the president is seeing right now is whether the Palestinians are still on-board with that and are willing to consider different alternatives for how those refugees come back.

CHEN: But there's already an expression of pessimism from both sides, from the Palestinians as well as from Mr. Barak himself that this is not likely to happen before the Clinton administration comes to an end.

BRONSON: Well, the key to negotiations -- and we've heard Dennis Ross actually say this before -- is that it really comes down to deadlines. Each side has to make sure that they push things right up to that deadline, otherwise their own constituency views them as selling out.

So both sides are very pessimistic, and it's a very, very difficult issue. But the fact that we do have deadline actually is the reason that we're seeing some movement.

I suspect that we will see in terms of Arafat coming back out and saying he has serious concerns about what's going on, a lot of things need to be negotiated, but there are some ideas that he's willing to talk about. But the fact that we do have this deadlines in some ways works against us, because it's short time. But in some ways, you need these deadlines to get these negotiations going for anything fruitful.

CHEN: You talked about the deadline: The deadline is that the Clinton administration will go out of office after January 20th. And then we talk about the Bush administration. How is that going to be regarded? What effect will that have on these negotiations?

BRONSON: Well, certainly the Clinton administration has been very, very involved. Both sides know the negotiators. They know who they're talking with. The negotiators know the issues very well.

It will take the Bush administration some time to get up to speed, and everybody knows that: is that they're coming. They have to re-evaluate what their positions is. It seems that the Bush administration wants to take a little bit more of a hands-off approach. They don't like the idea of the president so involved in negotiations. And so there will have to be some delegation over who's responsible and laying all that out. So there will be a pause.

Very quickly, you move to Israeli elections in early February, and then we may have new leadership in Israel. If not, if we have Barak again, he still has his own domestic problems that are going to be the exact same as he faced before the coalition collapse.

CHEN: Have there been any names in the Bush government that you think would draw some attention, either some ire or some concern on the parts of either the Israelis or the Palestinians?

BRONSON: There have been names that have been mentioned, and certainly I wouldn't want to say until they're out there. But the names that I have heard have been people who are very experienced with the Middle East and who have been involved in negotiations. So I think as we start seeing the names put together, there is a good chance that these folks will be experienced. But remember, they haven't been around for eight years, and so they're going to have to get their briefing, re-evaluate their stance, where they are, and think about how they want to move forward on it.

So there are sort of new names. There's also the idea that Tenet may stay around as the director of the CIA. The CIA's been very involved in the Middle East. And so we may have a continuation, one continuation from the Clinton administration. But even that is still up in the air. You have to wait and see.

The names I've heard suggest that there will be experts coming in, but it really comes down to waiting for these names to be put forward and go forward on making policy.

CHEN: Rachel Bronson from the Council on Foreign Relations, thanks for being with us.

BRONSON: Thanks, Joie.



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