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Clinton, Netanyahu meet again Tuesday night

Netanyahu's limosine
Prime Minister Netanyahu returning to his hotel after a late unscheduled White House meeting   
January 21, 1998
Web posted at: 2:45 a.m. EST (0745 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with U.S. President Bill Clinton late Tuesday night, in an unscheduled second trip to the White House to discuss the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

The talks, characterized as "good and intensive," did not result in a breakthrough, but officials remained optimistic. Clinton made proposals to "bridge the gap" between Israeli and Palestinian positions, the official said.

While no details were released, the official, who cannot be named under briefing rules, said Clinton's proposals included suggestions on the timing and scope of troop withdrawals from the West Bank.

The Israeli cabinet last week postponed a decision on the next round of withdrawals. While Palestinians have demanded more pullouts, Israelis have been hesitant, citing security concerns and demanding crackdowns on terrorists in areas already under Palestinian control.

"This gap has existed for a year," a senior White House official said. "It is not going to be closed in a night."

Arafat to arrive in Washington Wednesday

Palestinian spokeswoman Hannan Ashrawi  
Ashrawi comments on Yasser Arafat's attitude heading into Wednesday's meeting
icon 281K/23 sec. AIFF or WAV sound

Ashrawi responds to Israeli statements that security is their foremost concern
icon230K/17 sec. AIFF or WAV sound

Clinton is expected to make similar proposals to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who is scheduled to arrive in Washington around midday Wednesday. Arafat will meet with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright Wednesday evening, and with Clinton on Thursday.

In advance of the Arafat visit, officials in the Palestinian Authority blame Israel for the stall in the peace process. "We would call it a breakthrough if there's an implementation of signed agreements," said Hanan Ashrawi, Arafat's education minister.

"We don't want to enter the slippery slope of changing agreements, or of trying to find compromises between an agreement that is itself a compromise and a new Israeli hard-line position," Ashrawi said.

But, Ashrawi said, "President Arafat comes with a very positive attitude, and with an open mind in order to deal with any constructive suggestions or proposals from the Americans."

'Setting the stage for hard decisions'


Clinton and Netanyahu met for 90 minutes Tuesday morning, a meeting that went "extremely well," U.S. officials said.

After meeting with Clinton, Netanyahu had an informal lunch with Vice President Al Gore, and met with Albright for two hours.

"We are discussing the prime minister's reactions to the president's ideas and doing some serious work," she said. "I think we are in the process of setting the stage for hard decisions. That's what this is about."

The Clinton administration believes Netanyahu has remained too uncompromising about a troop withdrawal from the West Bank, but Netanyahu has maintained that Washington is pressuring him to take unacceptable risks with Israeli security.

The 1993 and 1995 Oslo accords between Israel and the Palestinians were based on the proposition that Israel would trade land to the Arabs for peace. While the accords left it to Israel to decide the extent of the next pullback, Netanyahu has come under widespread pressure to make a large territorial concession.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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