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Israel: U.S. Confident In Barak's Efforts To Achieve Peace

Washington, 15 July 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The United States has expressed confidence in Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's intentions to lead the peace process in the Middle East.

Barak, who is in the United States on a week-long visit, will have extensive meetings with President Bill Clinton, discussions with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and separate meetings with American Jewish leaders.

He will also be feted at an official state dinner at the White House and spend a night at a presidential retreat near Washington, called Camp David.

Analysts say the warm reception for Barak reflects the United States' optimism that he will provide the political leadership necessary to achieve lasting peace in the Middle East.

Barak's predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, froze the peace process last December and refused to implement the terms of the Israeli-Palestinian peace accord, known as the Wye River memorandum, the land-for-security deal reached last year at Wye River, a resort near Washington..

State Department spokesman James Rubin said Wednesday the delayed implementation of the Wye agreement should not hold up discussions of a permanent Palestinian-Israeli peace settlement. He said:

"At the time of the Wye Agreement, it was envisaged that there would be three phases of a further redeployment and that, very soon after the signing of the agreement, that the permanent-status talks could begin and be accelerated and moved very quickly. So there is nothing inconsistent about the implementation of an agreement already signed and the negotiation and discussion of an agreement for the future. Those two can happen at the same time, just as we believe you can work on the peace process with Syria at the same time you can work on the peace process with the Palestinians, and that you needn't put one over the other but can work on both. You can also implement an agreement, even as you are working on the next agreement."

Barak has already met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and King Abdullah II of Jordan. Now the new Israeli prime minister will have the opportunity to share his ideas and plans with President Clinton. Said Rubin:

"Obviously, we want to hear from Prime Minister Barak about his views as to the best way to move forward. And in that regard, let me say that we -- it has long been our belief that the best way to resolve problems is through direct negotiations between the parties. And one of the big challenges we faced over the last several years, that there was a deterioration in the ability of the parties to negotiate and solve even small problems. As a consequence and in order to prevent the process from collapsing, we had to play a role that we had neither envisaged for ourselves nor was in the best interest of the process of peacemaking."

Rubin said that ideally, the U.S. would like to scale back its involvement in the Middle East peace talks and let the parties determine their own destiny. He said:

"Since Rabin's time, we have made it clear that we're a full partner in the peace process, we will do whatever we can to help promote the achievement of peace; but with respect to the specific role of the United States, as a result of the decline in trust and confidence between the parties, and based on the provisions of the Wye River memorandum, we assume certain responsibilities in support of the parties' efforts on security. Clearly, the more the parties can do themeselves, the less we will need to be involved."

Barak is to hold three hours of talks today (Thursday) with Clinton. They are also scheduled to spend the night at Camp David in an extended get-acquainted session.

After a visit to New York, where he is to meet with American Jewish leaders, among others, Barak is to return to Washington on Monday for additional talks with Clinton. They will also hold a joint press conference.

Before leaveing for the United States, Barak said in interviews with American newspapers that, among other things, he wanted to restore a sense of trust and intimacy between the U.S. and Israel.