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Clinton has final say on Israeli-Palestinian summit in Washington
Arafat, Barak disagree on when meeting should be held
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- The next step in the arduous Mideast peace process shifted to Washington on Wednesday after U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright met with Palestinian and Israeli leaders to assess the possibility of a U.S.-brokered Camp David-styled summit.
"Only the president of the United States can decide if and when the time is right for a summit between us and the Palestinians," said Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak following his second meeting with Albright on Wednesday in Jerusalem. "If and when all the conditions are right, we will be ready."
Barak and his Palestinian counterpart, Yasser Arafat, have a fundamental disagreement over the timing of any summit aimed at forging a final peace accord before the September 13 deadline. Barak believes talks can go no further until such a summit takes place, while Arafat believes a summit is doomed to failure unless some very prickly issues are cleared first.
"You can cross rivers. You cannot cross oceans," Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath told CNN's Jerrold Kessel after a meeting earlier on Wednesday between Albright and Arafat in Ramallah, West Bank.
Albright did not speculate on what Clinton's decision might be, but cautioned both sides to keep in mind that an agreement will meet the needs of both sides "but no one will get 100 percent."
"Both sides also know the benefits of reaching an accord as well as the risks and consequences if they do not, she said back in Jerusalem. "No one can allow the perfect to become the enemy of the good."
Land a major issue
Palestinian officials hinted after the Albright-Arafat meeting that a Washington summit could come by the end of July, but only after more lower-level negotiations on such issues as the status of Jerusalem and the return of Palestinian lands in the West Bank and Gaza.
Arafat has taken a hard-line stance in recent weeks, refusing to attend a summit before Barak begins a third redeployment of Israeli soldiers from the West Bank and releases more Palestinian prisoners.
He has also held fast to a demand for the return of West Bank and Gaza land lost to the Israelis in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Barak has faced intense opposition to the land return from many Israelis -- particularly the tens of thousands of Jewish settlers in the disputed area.
"We will not return to the borders of 1967," Barak said on army radio. "The Palestinians want 100 percent of the territory. ... They are worrying about the Palestinian issues. I worry about the state of Israel."
Barak conceded that a summit might not produce an agreement, and vowed not to "sign an agreement that I don't think is good."
Levy: Not now
Earlier on Wednesday, Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy pointedly disagreed with his boss, telling Albright that there is still too much work to be done to call an Israeli-Palestinian summit in Washington.
Albright met with Levy Wednesday morning after meeting late Tuesday with Barak. The discussions came on the heels of public comments by Levy that Barak is giving too many concessions to the Palestinians without securing enough for Israel.
Levy continued to urge Barak to hold off on the summit, saying "much work needs to be done."
"There are true differences," he said, adding that Israel "can't be an ostrich," burying its head in the sand and ignoring the differences. "We cannot go toward such a summit and risk it failing," he said.
Albright has come to the region at the request of President Clinton "in order to help him determine whether there is a basis sufficient for a summit, or if more work needs to be done" before such a meeting takes place."
"We all believe this is a very important point," she said, calling the permanent status issues being debated "the most difficult." She said it was "necessary for both parties to feel comfortable with moving forward" on the peace process and that Clinton would decide whether the sides were ready for a summit meeting.
Correspondents Jerrold Kessel and Andrea Koppel, Producer Elise Labott, CNN.com Senior Writer KC Wildmoon and Reuters contributed to this report.
Albright meets Barak amid rising tempers, sagging prospects for peace
U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright
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