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Special Event

Mideast Negotiators Say Peace is Closer Than Ever Before

Aired January 27, 2001 - 1:50 p.m. ET

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

DONNA KELLEY, CNN ANCHOR: We want to take you live to Egypt here on CNN so we can let you in on what Middle East leaders are saying. The speakers will be the Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami and Ahmed Qorei, who's head of the Palestinian delegation. They have reported some progress, but they say there is no agreement as such; but we'll listen in to see what they have accomplished.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

SHLOMO BEN-AMI, ISRAELI FOREIGN MINISTER: ... make my statement in Hebrew and later on we will have, obviously, questions and answers in English.

(through translator): We are today concluding six days, which have been very intense days, of talks between us and the Palestinians as part of the general framework of our effort to achieve a permanent settlement between ourselves, as was the policy of our government from its beginning.

I've taken part in this stage of the negotiations from the beginning of this government. I and my colleagues can indeed testify to the fact that it's been the most detailed and in-depth round of talks, and has brought us to a stage where we can definitely say that we, Israelis and Palestinians, have never been closer to an agreement between ourselves than at this point.

We have embarked on a technical and also principle-based discussion. We've gone into principles and details, very great details, in the various working parties.

And certainly we can say that we have a basis for an agreement, which will be able to be implemented and achieved after the elections in Israel. I am convinced that if we had quality political time available to us, we would be able to complete that which still has to be completed in these negotiations.

And we are now concluding our negotiations, our talks, in hope and expectation that there would be a further stage in our discussions between the leaders at some stage in the middle of the week. There have been political initiatives in this direction, and I do trust that these will be able to be realized.

But we are completing this stage in the talks between us with the feeling of real achievement that we are very close to a settlement, an arrangement, but also with the feeling that, at the moment, we don't have the quality political time available to us in order to achieve this agreement. And we will return to this when the democratic process in Israel has been completed.

Thank you very much.

AHMED QOREI, PALESTINIAN SPOKESMAN: First of all, good evening to all of you. I will speak in Arabic, and I will reply in English or in Arabic as it is.

(through translator): First of all, I'm happy to express my thanks to brotherly Egypt for hosting these important negotiations, which we all believe have been the most important phase of negotiations on the final status.

And I would like, again, Israel, to express my thanks to the European community and to Mr. Morotinos (ph), who has been with us during this phase of negotiations and who has delivered a very constructive work in pushing the negotiations forward and in trying to help us reach an agreement.

What I'm going to say is not going to be a big surprise, but I would say that we have spent six days in a very serious work, genuine effort, in which we have gazed (ph) and discussed the four points that we agreed were the key issues for a settlement. And those are the land, borders, Jerusalem, and the question of refugees and security.

And I can say that we have managed to achieve two major important things. The first thing is, we have removed a lot of ambiguity about the stance of both of us in the way that we are now capable of working, either as negotiators, or in other words, our leadership can take resolutions in a way which is much more clear than the issues under the question today.

The second thing is, there have been issues that we have addressed for the first time in such detailed manners. For instance, on the question of land, there were very in-depth and very detailed negotiations at the level of the chairmen of the two sides, members of the two delegations. And again, also, there was a very detailed discussion between the technicals (ph) from both sides. And this was sort of an unprecedented move by both sides to discuss in such a detailed manner.

Again, on the question of Jerusalem, all the issues on the question were addressed.

The questions relevant to the Palestinian refugees were also discussed, whether the principle of the right to return or other issues that are related to this question of refugees.

The same applies to the question of security, and therefore I can say clearly that all of these issues had been discussed in a very comprehensive way and in a very detailed manner.

Certainly, and no doubt, there were some other issues that had lots of loopholes in them. I cannot say these holes or these problems were easy, because the questions themselves that are being addressed are not easy, and they are difficult. And these gaps are certainly difficult.

Undoubtedly, these negotiations, the serious negotiations we have had, we hope that they will have a positive reflection on the question of trust that had been disrupted between the two sides as a result of the events that we have witnessed recently. That's on one hand.

On the other hand, we hope that they would help restore the confidence between the two sides, restore it to the situation it was before these events broke out, and also in order to put an end to what I call the aggression against the Palestinian people, to put an end to the killings of the Palestinian people, so we can move forward and continue until the end of this process by which we achieve all the goals we all aspire to.

Unfortunately, the period that separates us from today until the elections in Israel is short. And it won't allow us to finish the work that we have started, but yet, we do hope that we can resume our efforts after the elections to finish what we started.

Because what we are doing here -- and allow my Israeli partners -- allow me to say that the work that we are doing today is not the kind of work between Shlomo Ben-Ami and Abu Ala or Yasser Abed Rabbo and Yossi Beilin or others. It is an action that is being conducted between the government of Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the Palestinian National Authority. And therefore, whatever outcome comes out of these negotiations is binding for both sides, so that both sides can resume the talks from the point that we -- from the point they stopped at today.

Therefore I can say that we have been engaged in serious work, and we look forward that this period will not last for long until we again meet to resume our effort to reach peace and stability and achieve the national rights of our people and to realize our goal, which is peace for both sides.

Thank you for all.

KELLEY: We're going to take some questions and answers.

QUESTION (through translator): There's not a lot of substance in the statement that's been issued. It's being stated that there's a need for further detail.

Now in English.

(SPEAKING IN ENGLISH): Do you believe that the talks are going to resume after the election if Ariel Sharon is elected?

And you are saying that both sides are obliged to this principle that...

KELLEY: They're talking about -- she's asking a question about the possibility of Ariel Sharon being elected in the elections that are coming up February 6 in Israel, and there have been some concerns and comments from Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

But in the meantime, brought you live coverage here on CNN of that statement coming from both sides. They have spent six intense days of talks, they said, and they have put together what they thought might be, perhaps, a permanent settlement. Most detailed, in-depth round of talks -- never been closer to an agreement; those words coming from Mr. Ben-Ami, the Israeli foreign minister, saying that he thinks there was a basis for an agreement and that it could be implemented after those elections, February 6, in Israel.

Feels very close to a settlement, but they have run out of time -- that they need to get the election done and then they'll come back after this election.

And Mr. Qorei, six days, very serious work, and he also emphasized how detailed this was -- and some issues addressed for the first time, other issues that they had gone into in great detail, including the borders, refugees, Jerusalem, and the Jewish settlements, and security.

We do hear that Palestinian President Yasser Arafat will meet Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak in Sweden next week and then they will do the election, as we say, February 6. And Mr. Qorei also hoping that this would be positive, that they could move forward, he said, to establish, again, some more confidence and trust after they've had their troubles -- as you probably know, those four months of clashes that have killed at least 312 Palestinians, 48 Israelis and 13 Israeli-Arabs.

That's the latest from Taba, Egypt after those talks. And we'll keep track of anything else that might happen and bring it to you here live on CNN.

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