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Tuesday, November 2, 1999 Published at 20:46 GMT


World: Middle East

Mid-East talks back on track

The Middle East peace talks are revived in Oslo

US President Bill Clinton has said that his private meeting with the Israeli and Palestinian leaders has "revitalised the Middle East peace process".

Middle East
President Clinton made the statement following talks with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak in the Norwegian capital, Oslo.

It was their first three-way discussions since Mr Barak took office in July.


BBC News' Jeremy Bowen: "The next 100 days will be crucial"
Mr Clinton said they might hold another summit to map out a route to a permanent peace accord "if enough progress has been made to make us all believe that in good faith we can actually get an agreement".

Mr Clinton said the two sides had agreed a number of steps including how the negotiating teams would work. The teams and the leaders themselves have pledged to stay in regular contact, which has not happened so far.

He added they had agreed not to make statements which might hinder the peace process. BBC Washington correspondent Richard Lister says few people expect they will be able to stick to such an agreement.

Framework

The US secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, and other American officials will make a series of trips to the region with the aim of achieving a framework for the final peace deal by mid February.


[ image:  ]
They are aiming to sign that deal next September. A senior US official said the initial framework agreement would cover all aspects of the final settlement from Palestinian statehood to the future of Jerusalem to the fate of millions of Palestinian refugees.

A possible Camp David-style meeting could take place as early as January or February 2000, according to a Palestinian official.

The two-day summit was called to mark the fourth anniversary of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin - a key sponsor of the peace process.

Mr Clinton said that if Mr Rabin had been alive to see the gathering, he would say: "This is all nice, but if you really want to honour me, finish the job."

A chance for peace

"We have now a chance, but only a chance, to bring real and lasting peace between Israel and her neighbours," Mr Clinton said.

"If we let it slip away, all will bear the consequences."

Earlier, Prime Minister Barak pledged to protect the "security interests and vital needs" of Israel as well as pursuing a lasting peace settlement with the Palestinians.

Mr Arafat heralded "the birth of a new age in the Middle East", and called for a "removal of obstacles".



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