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Friday, October 16, 1998 Published at 04:44 GMT 05:44 UK

World: Middle East

'Hard work' for Middle East leaders

Binyamin Netanyahu confers with his delegation

Bridget Kendall in Washington: "Cautious optimism from both sides"
Israeli and Palestinian leaders have begun talks at the secluded Wye Plantation Conference Centre in the US an effort to resolve their differences over the Middle East peace process.

The talks involving the Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, were opened by President Clinton.

Opening the talks at the vast estate, Mr Clinton said: "There is hard work ahead if we are to reach an agreement ... Our entire team (is) ready to do whatever we can. We are ready to get to work."

Steven Sackur in Washington on the atmosphere at Wye
The discussions are being held away from the eyes of the media in the hopes of concentrating the minds of negotiators on the issues in hand.

Land and security

The Palestinian Authority is demanding that Israel agrees to US-backed proposals which include the hand over of an additional 13% of the West Bank, along with a guaranteed safe corridor for access to and from the area and an end to Jewish settlement of the territory.

Israel has refused to cede any more land until it says it is satisfied that the Palestinians have clamped down on attacks and put in place extradition measures to deal with terrorism.

President Clinton: "Certain realities underlie these discussions"
Before leaving for the Wye Conference Centre, President Clinton urged the two to "break the log jam" in the Middle East peace process, saying too much time has already been lost.

Flanked by the two Middle East leaders outside the White House, the president called on them to end the 17-month breakdown to avoid "placing in jeopardy" all that had already been achieved.

"Concessions that seem hard now will seem less important in the light of an accord that moves Israelis and Palestinians closer to lasting peace," he said.

President Clinton refused to take questions after his statement or have any put to the other leaders.

As the two leaders prepared for the summit, they both expressed optimism that progress was possible in a "land for security" deal.

Mr Arafat says that unless there is movement, he will declare an independent Palestinian state in May next year, the scheduled deadline for the process started under the Oslo peace agreement.

'100% effort'

Speaking before the talks, US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said that Mr Arafat must prove to the Israelis that he can ease concerns over security.

"It is essential that he makes a 100% effort, and shows that he has committed himself to doing that," she said.

"There is some tough work ahead of us in the next few days."

[ image: Hanan Ashrawi:
Hanan Ashrawi: "We have gone the extra mile"
But Hanan Ashrawi, a former Palestinian negotiator and member of the legislative council, said that Mr Arafat had "already gone the extra mile" for peace.

"I have no realistic expectations or hopes," she said. "I do not see any change in the hard-line Israeli policies.

If the summit does lead to a breakthrough, the two sides could begin critical "final status" negotiations, which includes the future of Jerusalem and Palestinian aspirations for statehood.

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