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CNN Today

Arafat Endorses Clinton Peace Proposal

Aired January 3, 2001 - 4:20 p.m. ET

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

JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, I'll try and get at the latest efforts at Middle East peace now. Israel has agreed to send negotiators to look at President Clinton's plan, one that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has endorsed, though conditionally. Will this lead to new peace talks with the Palestinians?

White House correspondent Kelly Wallace joins us for more on that now -- Kelly.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Joie, that is the big question. And the word from Clinton administration officials is that President Clinton and his team will now work separately with the Israelis and the Palestinians to see if the two sides, their reservations, can be reconciled to lead, and pave the way for another round of talks between both sides.

Now, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak told Mr. Clinton today that he will send an Israeli negotiator to Washington tomorrow to meet with U.S. officials. This coming after Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat signaled to the president, after three hours of talks yesterday, that the Palestinians have accepted, in principle, the president's outline for further negotiations, with reservations.

Now, Mr. Arafat left Washington earlier today, headed to Cairo to brief his Arab counterparts on the talks in Washington. And when he left, he sounded a bit of an optimistic note, saying it is important to move the peace process forward. But as we mention, there are big reservations.

The Palestinian reservations cover the stickiest, thorniest points between the two sides: issues such as sovereignty over the most sacred holy site in Jerusalem; questions of the right of return for the Palestinian refugees; and just how much territory the Palestinians would get in the West Bank. Again, big questions that must be worked out.

Senior officials concede, they do not know if the president would be able to get an agreement between now and January 20th. You also have the issue of Prime Minister Barak facing re-election in February, and also facing declining support among the Israeli people for the president's outline, and so senior officials say they are not sure a deal is possible. They say, the president will do everything he can, and that there may come a time where Mr. Clinton will just have to leave this for his successor, President-elect Bush. When asked, when that will be, one senior U.S. official said, we'll know it when we see it.

Joie, back to you.

CHEN: Kelly, is there a lot of communication between the Clinton White House and the president-elect's administration on what's going on now and how that might change after January 20th?

WALLACE: Absolutely. Basically, the White House is saying that President-elect Bush and his team are being fully briefed about these developments. U.S. officials briefing the president-elect -- he gets a national security briefing every day. Secretary of state nominee Colin Powell, also the National Security Adviser-designate Condoleezza Rice also being briefed.

But at this time, the U.S. officials here at the White House are focusing on these next 17 days. Just a short time ago, we were asking a senior official about, what if the president can't do this? Is he leaving it for the next administration? They are saying they are doing what they can, and then they will leave it to the next administration as of January 20th.

Joie, back to you.

CHEN: Kelly Wallace for us at the White House.

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