The United States has given Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu several more weeks to decide how big a withdrawal he can make on the West Bank, a senior U.S. official said Friday.

Washington does not expect Netanyahu or Palestinian President Yasser Arafat to take big decisions like that until after they meet President Clinton in January, he said."It's logical that prior to taking tough decisions it would make sense to have the president see the two leaders. Each leader is going to have tough decisions to make," he said.

The United States has been pressing Netanyahu to make what it calls a "credible and significant" withdrawal from the West Bank. Netan-yahu has problems inside his government, some members of which oppose giving land back to the Palestinians.

In an interview with Reuters Friday, Netanyahu ruled out an Israeli withdrawal until the Palestinian Authority took tough action against political violence.

But neither he nor the United States has announced specific security targets for the Palestinians to meet.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright met Netanyahu and Arafat in Europe this week, without any visible signs of progress toward a further Israeli withdrawal.

The official said the U.S. mediators felt they were narrowing the gap between the two sides, but he declined to give details. "We concluded the Hebron agreement on Jan. 15, and we haven't progressed since that time," he added later.

In the weeks before the meetings with Clinton, the United States will work on the so-called interim issues - mainly practical steps which Israel agreed to take in earlier agreements but then failed to carry out.

They include opening an airport in Gaza, setting up an industrial zone between Israel and Gaza and making arrangements for a safe passage between Gaza and the West Bank.

U.S. special Middle East envoy Dennis Ross may visit the region in the next few weeks to work on these questions, in the hope that progress here will improve the climate.

"They can affect the environment within which the decisions get made . . . We would like to be able to have some progress on the interim issues because it will facilitate on the bigger issues," the official said.