Clinton Might Hold Mideast Meetings


Wednesday, October 25th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


WASHINGTON (AP) — President Clinton said Wednesday he believes Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has the authority to end the bloodshed that has dashed hopes for peace in the Middle East.

But he said both the Palestinians and Israelis must honor the commitments they made at a recent emergency summit in Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt, before productive peace negotiations can resume between Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

Clinton has raised the possibility of meeting separately with Arafat and Barak at the White House if they do their parts to halt violent uprisings in the Mideast. The White House said the two leaders are still considering the offer.

``I do think Chairman Arafat can dramatically reduce the level of violence,'' Clinton said outside the Oval Office before leaving on a fund-raising trip to New York.

He said both sides must do more to live up to commitments made at last week's summit, but acknowledged that the route back to the negotiating table will be rocky.

``You just can't turn mass emotions on and off — like, you know you can a water tap. It's just not that simple,'' Clinton said. ``I think what we did at Sharm (el-Sheik) was to put at least a speed bump on the road to this dramatic deterioration of the situation.''

But he conceded that neither Arafat nor Israeli leaders have complete control over violent factions.

``I think there are some people within the Palestinian territories and probably some people within Israel that are not within total control of Chairman Arafat or even the Israeli government,'' Clinton said.

During a 30-minute phone call to Arafat on Tuesday, Clinton raised the possibility of inviting him and Barak to meet with him individually in Washington in one more attempt to break the latest cycle of bloodshed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. He called Barak Tuesday night.

After the call to Arafat, Clinton met with Jordan's King Abdullah in the East Room of the White House to sign an accord that would remove all trade barriers between the two nations over the next 10 years.

``Though the path of peace is steep and has become steeper these last few weeks, in the long run it is the only path that offers the peoples of the Middle East hope for a normal life as part of the modern world,'' Clinton said.

Clinton described the king as a ``voice of reason and calm'' in the Mideast and implored Arafat and Barak to find a way to end the bloodshed.

``And they must do it sooner rather than later,'' Clinton said. ``For in the Middle East, as we have all learned, time does not heal wounds, it simply rubs more salt in them. The issues do not change, they just get harder to resolve.''

The increased threat of terrorist incidents in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza prompted the State Department to caution Americans against traveling to those areas.

Those who must go to those areas ``should exercise caution and avoid shopping areas, malls, public buses and bus stops as well as crowded areas and demonstrations,'' the department said in a statement Tuesday.

In four weeks of fighting between Israelis and Palestinians, more than 125 people, mostly Palestinians, have died. Fighting tapered off Tuesday but still three Palestinians were killed.

``There has been enough destruction, enough death, enough waste,'' Abdullah said.

Clinton met with his national security team Tuesday morning to discuss problems in the Middle East. His conversation later in the day with Arafat focused on encouraging the Palestinian leader to do all he could to implement the three agreements made in Sharm el-Sheik, White House spokesman P.J. Crowley said. The president reminded Arafat of each: taking concrete steps to improve security and reduce violence; working on a fact-finding inquiry into how the peace process collapsed into bloodshed; and finding a way back to the negotiating table.

``We believe that there are obligations that both sides still need to fulfill if we are going to change the situation on the ground,'' Crowley said.

But Crowley stressed that implementation of the first two agreements was not a precondition to hosting separate meetings with Arafat and Barak in Washington.

And he cautioned that while Clinton raised the possibility of the leaders coming to Washington, it remains ``just a possibility.''

Barak is working to save his government by negotiating with hard-line opposition leader Ariel Sharon to form a coalition government.

Palestinians have said Sharon's inclusion would crush any hopes left for peace. They blame Sharon's Sept. 28 visit to a holy site in Jerusalem on sparking this month's violence.

A fresh round of diplomacy would mark Clinton's second involvement in the Mideast since the nine-day Camp David talks between Barak and Arafat ended in failure in July.

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On the Net: State Department Middle East site: http://www.state.gov/www/regions/nea/index.html