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Thursday, October 15, 1998 Published at 19:22 GMT 20:22 UK

World: Middle East

Why go to Wye?

Wye - a seculded river haven

The Wye conference retreat was chosen as the site for the Middle East peace talks for its remote setting and comfortable surroundings.

Sequestering Middle East leaders is a strategy that has worked before.

In 1977, the Carter administration brought together Israeli and Egyptian leaders to negotiate for a marathon 18 days on the Camp David peace accords.

The latest summit location is modelled on the seclusion of the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland.

In 1995 and 1996, the Wye Centre was also the site of the Israel-Syria talks.

Tobacco Diplomacy

American officials say the negotiations will be intensive and largely shielded from the press and the public.

Wives have been discouraged from attending, a temporary synagogue has been set up at the estate so Israeli officials do not leave for the Saturday Sabbath, and pains have been taken to provide correct Kosher food.

A week ago, when Mr Netanyahu became the first Israeli prime minister to eat in Gaza, Mr Arafat brought out the cigars, producing what Mr Netanyahu called his favourite brand.

One Israeli columnist said the Americans were, half seriously, calling this tobacco diplomacy, like the ping-pong diplomacy which let to breakthroughs in American-Chinese relations.

Indeed, Mr Netanyahu quipped: "If we reach a deal in Washington, we'll need so many cigars, we'll all have to go to Cuba."

The Americans, it is said, laughed nervously. Ever since Kenneth Starr's report was published, cigars conjure up too many associations - none of them good for Washington politics.

Clinton returns to Washington

President Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat are to have dinner together on Thursday evening at Wye.

Only President Clinton is returning to Washington, leaving US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to conduct most of the discussions.

Aides said President Clinton was not scheduled to rejoin the negotiators but had promised to do so if it would help.

The Clinton administration has also decided to keep the Wye site off limits to the press.

"We do not intend to have these discussions played out in the papers or on TV," White House press secretary Joe Lockhart said.

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