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Arafat lunches with Albright prior to talks with Clinton
WASHINGTON -- Yasser Arafat is in Washington for what the Palestinian leader described as a crucial meeting with U.S. President Bill Clinton aimed at energizing peace talks with Israel.
The Palestinian leader attended a luncheon meeting Thursday at the home of U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright as a prelude to late-afternoon talks with Clinton scheduled at the White House. Discussion at both events was expected to revolve around how Palestinians and Israel can agree on a framework for a final peace settlement by May 13.
Arafat arrived in the U.S. capital early Thursday morning from Cairo, fresh from similar talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Clinton is coming off a meeting last week on Mideast peace with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.
Clinton's advisers say they view these meetings as extremely important. They say that once the Arafat-Clinton talks are concluded, they will have a better idea as to whether it's possible to reach the May 13 deadline.
Palestinian optimism low
Palestinians have been less than optimistic lately about prospects for an agreement, which would cover some of the most difficult issues in the peace process, including borders, Jerusalem, refugees and Jewish settlements.
The Palestinians have demanded that a Palestinian state be established on all of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, territories Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East War, with Jerusalem as its capital.
Israel says it is willing to offer Palestinians most of the territory but not all of it. It has vowed not to cede any part of Jerusalem, which it calls its "indivisible, eternal" capital.
'No place for more flexibility'
Palestinian negotiator and Cabinet minister Hassan Asfour said on Tuesday, "We have nothing new to add. ... There is no place for more flexibility."
On Monday, Arafat said Thursday's meeting with Clinton was crucial for moving toward peace.
So far, Palestinian and Israeli negotiators have held two rounds of talks this year at Washington's Bolling Air Force Base in an attempt to forge the framework toward agreement.
Arafat has said that if they fail to reach a final agreement by a September 13 deadline, the Palestinians will unilaterally declare a Palestinian state.
Clinton, Barak meet as Mideast peace process stalls
The Middle East Network Information Center
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