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Clinton Takes Mideast Negotiations as Far as Possible

Aired January 8, 2001 - 4:09 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: Despite some serious objections from both the Israelis and Palestinians, a senior administration official says that President Clinton is not giving up on his Middle East peace plan.

CNN's Eileen O'Connor is at the White House now, with the latest there.

Eileen, how does president think he can pull this off within the next 12 days?

EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's called hope, Joie; and, basically, he's sending U.S. envoy Dennis Ross to the Middle East tomorrow. He'll be leaving for one last-ditch effort to talk to Israeli and Palestinian negotiators on, plan A, a final settlement to this conflict; but, of course, even the president said last night in a speech to the Israeli Policy Forum that he doubts that that will happen -- that there will be a final agreement.

But he -- White House officials say that he is hoping, at least, to move this along as far as possible; get the two sides as close as possible before President-elect takes office -- Bush takes office. And they're hoping, then, that the Bush administration would then have something very -- a good foundation upon which to build -- Joie.

CHEN: Eileen, I'm sure that any resident of the White House would want to get the credit if the credit is due, if a plan is worked out. Is there any reservation here? They are in these final moments; look, if you realize it's not going to be able to get done, then let's just let them start over and do whatever they want to do in the next administration. Have they considered that?

O'CONNOR: No; President Clinton believes that he has made some successes and has moved the ball a long way during his eight years, Joie.

He actually laid that out in that speech last night. And, in fact, U.S. officials have told me privately they're pretty irritated at suggestions that, for instance, the Camp David talks that they called were premature, that not enough groundwork had been laid for that. And are irritated that some people are referring to this as a failure in the Middle East process.

They say, look, these two sides are talking about issues they wouldn't even have broached before -- things like the status of Jerusalem, a Palestinian state, and also the return of refugees. And they believe that, if they could at least get the two sides to agree on the parameters for resolving these final status issues, as they call them, that that would really be a significant victory and a significant legacy, really, for President Clinton.

CHEN: Eileen, one other quick note here: Is Mr. Ross, the envoy, carrying any new ideas with him as he returns to the region, or is he just going to try to help clarify?

O'CONNOR: He is going to help clarify, but also, perhaps, a little bit of new ideas in the sense that both sides have had reservations about the parameters with -- that President Clinton gave for moving forward. And so what he's trying to do is talk to both sides and see where there could be areas of compromise in those areas of reservation.

And so, not necessarily new ideas, but perhaps some ideas of compromise within the parameters -- Joie.

CHEN: CNN's Eileen O'Connor for us at the White House.

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