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Middle East: U.S. Sets Terms for Restarting Mideast Peace

Washington, 7 August 1997 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright say progress on security issues is essential for restarting the stalled Middle East peace process.

They addressed the issue at separate press conferences yesterday, urging Israelis, as well as Palestinians, to consider their actions, make a greater effort and do more for peace.

Clinton said the U.S. expects the Palestinian Authority to resume what he called "meaningful, real consistent security cooperation with the Israeli authorities," and arrest known terrorists. "People who are really serious threats to peace and to innocent civilians should be kept behind bars," he said.

Clinton said he is aware of the frustration of many Palestinians in dealing with the Israeli government. But, he stressed "none of that can be an excuse for not maintaining security," adding that "you can't have a civilized society if you permit terrorism, and ... the terrorists are also the enemy of moderate, constitutional government among the Palestinians."

Turning to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Clinton said his government "clearly has a responsibility to try to carry its end of the load -- this has got to be a two-way street."

Albright, in a Washington speech devoted almost exclusively to the Middle East peace process, announced that she is prepared to travel to the region at the end of this month, provided there is some progress on security issues.

It would be her first trip to the Middle East since taking office in January. Her predecessor Warren Christopher made at least 20 trips there during his four-year tenure. Critics comparing the record have accused Albright of focusing on NATO expansion and Bosnia problems, and neglecting the Middle East.

She vigorously denies the charge, noting that she deals with Middle East issues daily, talks with leaders there by telephone and has met several key statesmen during their visits to Washington.

U.S. special envoy Dennis Ross is being sent to the region first to determine whether there is a basis for Albright's trip there at the end of August.

He is expected to arrive in Israel this Saturday for talks with Netanyahu and to meet Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and possibly other Mideastern leaders to discuss primarily security issues.

Albright said in her speech that she would go to the region to consult with Israeli and Palestinian leaders on ways of improving the climate for negotiations and overcoming, as she put it, "the current crisis of confidence."

She singled out three areas that could help revive the peace process if both sides try harder and with greater sincerity.

On the number one issue -- security -- she said there must be an unrelenting struggle against extremism, and that "the Palestinian commitment to fight terror must be constant and absolute," adding that security cooperation cannot be used as a leverage in negotiations.

Another way to break the current deadlock, according to Albright, is to narrow the agenda and deal now with the issue of the status of Palestinians, instead of making an interim agreement and postponing this difficult issue.

Albright said: "If the parties have a clear and mutual and favorable sense of the ultimate direction of negotiation, it will be easier for them to overcome setbacks and avoid distractions along the way -- this will require accelerating permanent status negotiations," adding that "today, this step is urgent and important."

Netanyahu has already said that he would be willing to end the final status talks by the end of this year instead of the original 1999 deadline.

Albright's third point, however, is one that Netanyahu has rejected --the idea of Israel trading occupied Arab land for peace with Arab neighbors.

Albright urged Palestinians and Israelis to return to the original core elements of the peace process, including, she said, "the principle upon which every Arab-Israeli agreement has been built -- land for peace."

Avoiding direct criticism of Israel, Albright urged its government to refrain from what she called "unilateral acts" that destroy Palestinian faith in the peace process. She was referring to Israel's settlement policy of building houses on disputed land.

A report earlier this week from an Israeli activist group said more than 44,000 new houses are planned in Jewish settlements in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza strip.

Albright also reaffirmed America's commitment to be a partner in the peace negotiations and do all it can to help the parties overcome their mutual suspicions and mistrust. But she stressed that Israelis and Palestinians alone could make the decisions needed to build a partnership for peace.