Facebook Twitter

Mideast talks die — but are revived

Fate of Jerusalem is main point of dispute between Arafat, Barak

SHARE Mideast talks die — but are revived

THURMONT, Md. — In a wild diplomatic roller-coaster ride, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak agreed to return to the bargaining table at Camp David, reviving tumultuous peace talks that had been declared a failure only a short time earlier.

With the fate of Jerusalem the main point of dispute, the Mideast summit entered a 10th day Thursday minus President Clinton, who was traveling to Japan — after a day's delay — for a weekend summit of leading industrialized nations.

"The gaps remain substantial, but there has been progress," Clinton said of the marathon effort to end 52 years of conflict. "And we must all be prepared to go the extra mile."

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was taking the reins of the talks Thursday, as she did a week earlier during a daylong absence by Clinton. She held a morning meeting with the U.S. delegation team to map out the day's negotiating strategy, a State Department official said.

Bleary-eyed and haggard from days of sometimes round-the-clock negotiations at the secluded presidential retreat in Maryland's Catoctin Mountains, Clinton himself delivered the dramatic news that the parties would push on with their peace effort after all.

"Nobody wanted to quit, nobody wanted to give up," the president hoarsely told reporters at a news conference hastily convened after midnight in the small-town elementary school that has served as the summit press center. Only a short time earlier, the White House had tersely declared that the summit had ended with no accord.

However, Clinton, who had shuttled back and forth between the two leaders for nine straight days trying to try to bridge the gaps between them — sometimes working the entire night through — cautioned that "there should be no illusion about the difficult task ahead."

Palestinians welcomed the revival of the talks, which came as both Barak and Arafat were preparing to catch planes home.

"This is a new opportunity I hope will be used to reach an agreement," said Hassan Abdel Rahman, the Washington envoy of Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization. "I hope this effort will succeed."

Israel, too, expressed renewed determination to arrive at some accord.

"We need to find a solution," Barak aide Eldad Yaniv told Israel radio, speaking from near Camp David. "We need to really turn every stone to find a solution."

The two sides have not been able to agree on the boundaries of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip or the fate of several million Palestinian refugees. But the real dealbreaker, by all accounts, was Jerusalem, the ancient city claimed by both sides as their capital.

Neither side showed any sign of yielding ground on their conflicting claims to the city.

The tension of the long days and nights of negotiations had bubbled to the surface throughout the day that led up to the White House announcement of the talks' conclusion with no accord reached.

Israel radio and television reported that Barak had sent Clinton a strongly worded letter complaining that the Palestinians had not negotiated in good faith and would have to bear the "tragic consequences" of a missed opportunity for peace.

The Palestinians in turn angrily accused Israel of trying to dictate terms to them.

The decision to continue the talks brought a swift renewal of attacks against Barak by political foes who claim he is preparing to make too-deep concessions to the Palestinians.

"We all want peace, but not the horrible peace of Barak that, I am sorry to say, could lead to war," hawkish former general Ariel Sharon told Israel radio on Thursday.

Barak's governing coalition crumbled on the eve of his departure for the talks with the pullout of three hard-line parties who are now expected to harry him with parliamentary no-confidence votes and force him into early elections.