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Clinton and Arafat meet in bid to energize peace talks
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and U.S. President Bill Clinton went into Thursday evening talks at the White House with hope of energizing peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
The meeting came just over a week after a similar session between Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. As Clinton and Arafat posed for photographers in the Rose Garden before their meeting, Clinton again expressed optimism about the prospects for peace.
"We've reached a very serious time in the peace process and both (Arafat) and Prime Minister Barak have set for themselves an ambitious timetable to reach a framework agreement as soon as they can, and then a final agreement by the middle of September," Clinton said. "So we're working hard on it and I think we'll get some things done today."Arafat arrived in the U.S. capital early Thursday morning from Cairo, fresh from similar talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.Earlier, the Palestinian leader attended a luncheon meeting at the home of U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
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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