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Barak tells Clinton Palestinians didn’t negotiate in good faith

SHARE Barak tells Clinton Palestinians didn’t negotiate in good faith

THURMONT, Md. (AP) — As President Clinton struggled to salvage faltering Mideast peace talks, Israel Prime Minister Ehud Barak was reported to have sent a letter to his summit host complaining that the Palestinians were not negotiating in good faith.

"The Palestinians arrived at Camp David lacking a true commitment, and are not ready to have a substantive discussion about a lasting peace and to make historic decisions," Israel radio quoted a Hebrew translation of the letter as saying. "Unless there are last-minute changes, the Palestinians will have to envision the tragic consequences of an opportunity they missed."

White House spokesman P.J. Crowley said Clinton had received a letter from Barak but he declined to discuss its contents. Israeli officials, observing a news blackout, said they could not get into the subject.

Clinton sent the summit into overtime when he delayed a trip to Japan for a day.

As the president met Wednesday morning with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat — their second talk in 12 hours — Israel said "it seems" that Barak had decided to stop the talks and return home. But the White House said it had not been informed about anyone planning to leave.

"There is a lot of stuff that flies around the air that's not worth a lot ... but just has no reflection of what's going on," presidential spokesman Joe Lockhart said at the midpoint of the talks' ninth day.

Explaining Clinton's decision to delay his trip, Lockhart said, "It's a judgment that the president made that it was useful and in the interests of the peace process to do that, but it's not an open-ended commitment." He said the president planned to get on Air Force One sometime overnight and fly to Asia.

"The parties know what they have to do," the spokesman said.

Clinton met with Barak around 10 p.m. Tuesday and then talked with Arafat. The president finished work about 1 a.m. and returned to work Wednesday eight hours later, meeting first with members of the U.S. negotiating team and then again with Arafat.

Asked if it had been worthwhile for Clinton to remain at the talks, Lockhart said, "I think that the fact that he's sitting in at a bilateral (meeting) with Chairman Arafat as we speak indicates that we think it's worth it."

The Israeli statement, issued by telephone by the prime minister's office in response to a reporter's question and attributed to senior sources, did not specify when the Israeli team planned to leave.

"It seems that Barak has decided to stop the talks and return to Israel," it said, adding that the Palestinians were unprepared to take the steps necessary to bring about an accord.

Later, Israel's deputy defense minister, Ephraim Sneh, told reporters the picture at Camp David was "quite gloomy." But he added that "as long as he (Barak), the host and the other party is there, there is maybe a glimmer of hope."

The White House had announced after midnight that Clinton was putting off his departure for a summit of industrial powers "in the best interests of the Middle East peace process." He had been scheduled to depart Wednesday morning.

"Clearly, the president is doing this so he can continue to work with the leaders through Wednesday," Crowley said then.

Even before the flap erupted over whether anyone was leaving, indications were that the going was extremely difficult at Camp David.

Ofir Pines, an Israeli lawmaker and chairman of Barak's governing coalition, said he did not believe the two sides could reach an accord.

"The Palestinian Authority is not prepared, simply is not prepared to reach an understanding to reach a peace agreement with Israel," he said on Israel radio Wednesday.

The Palestinians, though, blamed Israel for the impasse.

"There can be no agreement without total Palestinian sovereignty over east Jerusalem," said Hassan Abdel Rahman, the Washington envoy of Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization. "This is a basic condition for achieving peace."

In the West Bank, about Palestinians rallied in the town of Ramallah, waving banners, Palestinian flags and keys made out of cardboard, to symbolize lost homes inside Israel.

"No peace without Jerusalem!" some shouted. "Return of the refugees!"

Since the summit began July 11, Clinton has been shuttling between the two sides, trying to shepherd them toward an accord on the most painful and divisive issues: the boundaries of a future Palestinian state, the fate of several million Palestinian refugees and — most explosive of all — the status of Jerusalem, which both sides claim as their capital.

If Clinton leaves Thursday morning as now scheduled, he would still arrive in time for the Friday-Sunday meeting in Japan's southernmost province, Okinawa, skipping preliminary talks in Tokyo. The White House statement expressed "regrets" over the delay.

In Tokyo, Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori's spokesman Kazuhiko Koshikawa said, "We understand the circumstances."

Other than an absence of about eight hours on Thursday, Clinton has been at Camp David throughout the talks, leading a marathon drive for an accord.