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Middle East: U.S. Aims To Resume Peace Talks

Washington, 2 July 1999 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President Bill Clinton says he hopes the momentum of Kosovo will carry over to the Middle East and is urging Israelis and Arabs to seize the opportunity by forging a just and lasting peace agreement.

At a joint White House news conference yesterday with visiting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Clinton said he will turn his attention again to the problems of the Middle East. Clinton said he expects to sit down in Washington soon with incoming Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak to discuss the prospects for peace.

Barak -- who is expected to form his coalition government by next week -- has said making peace is his top priority.

Clinton said Israelis and Palestinians now have a real chance to move the negotiations forward. "The best way for the Israelis to have lasting security is a negotiated peace based on mutual respect. That is also the best way for Palestinians to shape their own future on their own land. A negotiated peace is the best way for all the people of the region to realize their aspirations."

Clinton said Israel's best chance for overall security is to conclude agreements with Syria and Lebanon, as well as the Palestinians.

Syria wants the return of the strategic Golan Heights captured by Israel in the 1967 war. The current Israeli government has refused to turn over the Golan for security reasons. Syria has insisted on the return as a precondition for peace.

Also, Syria has great influence over Lebanon and is not likely to go along with a separate Israeli-Lebanese peace treaty.

Negotiations on a final settlement with the Palestinians have also stalled because of Israel's refusal to turn over land on the West Bank because of security concerns.

For his part, Mubarak said he will meet with Israeli and Arab leaders soon to try to revive the talks. He did not give a timetable.

Clinton paid tribute to Mubarak for supporting the United States and its allies in the air campaign against Yugoslavia that led to the ouster of Serb troops from Kosovo and the stationing of international peacekeepers in the province. Clinton said:

"I am profoundly grateful to Egypt for supporting the stand taken by NATO. Already more than half the refugees have returned to Kosovo. There is still much work to do, and I thank Egypt for its commitment to provide Egyptian police officers for the civilian police implementation force there. But we have made a powerful statement together: The future belongs to those who reconcile human differences, not those who exploit them. The future belongs to those who respect human rights, not those who destroy people because of their religion, their race or their ethnic background. I hope we can carry some of the momentum from what we have achieved in Kosovo to the Middle East as we seek there to promote tolerance and a durable peace."

Mubarak said opportunities were missed because of Israeli reluctance to implement a land-for-peace agreement with the Palestinians that was agreed last year during U.S.-mediated talks.

"In the months ahead, we'll be looking forward to reviving the peace process which has been stalled for some time. Unfortunately, valuable time has been wasted. Today there is an opportunity which should not be missed. We shall work closely with the U.S. and coordinate our joint efforts in order to have the parties break the stalemate and restore movement towards peace. Recent events indicate that most of the region's inhabitants are yearning for peace."

Mubarak said agreements which have been signed on the Palestinian track must be implemented fully and in good faith. He said Israeli settlement activities on the West Bank should be stopped.