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WYE TALKS CHANCE TO BREAK MIDDLE EAST LOGJAM, CLINTON SAYS(Clinton urges Netanyahu and Arafat to make peace)
By Wendy S. Ross
USIA White House Correspondent
Wye Mills, Maryland -- President Clinton opened the Middle East Peace talks the afternoon of October 15 by urging Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat "to reach an agreement here and get the peace process moving again."
Press members then were asked to leave the secluded Wye River Conference Center, where the participants in the opening plenary session were seated around a huge table.
Clinton was to meet separately with Arafat and with Netanyahu following the opening session and then all three were to dine together along with US Secretary of State Albright.
Earlier October 15, Clinton met for over 50 minutes in the Oval Office of the White House with the two Middle East leaders and then all three stood side-by-side in the sun-covered Rose Garden, where Clinton made a short public statement.
"This week's talks at Wye River offer the chance for the parties to break the logjam and finally take the next essential steps for peace in the Middle East," the President said. "These two leaders have the power to lead their people to peace."
Clinton said he, Secretary Albright and Vice President Gore "and our entire team will do everything we can to make peace possible, at Wye River and beyond. But, in the end, it is up to the leaders standing with me today in their courage, their vision and determination, and shared understanding that the future has to be shared in peace."
As they left the White House, both Middle East leaders spoke with the press at the North Portico.
Netanyahu, who left with his party first, told reporters that "we come with the best intentions and we hope that there will be an accord. We're asked to give additional territory; we want to ensure that this territory doesn't become a base and a haven for terrorists to attack us, as happened before. And therefore, we seek assurances that the obligations that the Palestinians took upon themselves in the Oslo Accords will be fulfilled -- chiefly and firstly, the commitment to fight terrorism in word and deed."
"If there is a willingness and a determination on the Palestinian side to do this, then I think the chances will be good. And I hope that that is the case," the Israeli leader said.
"If we succeed -- and it's an if -- then we'll enter final status talks," he said.
Arafat said he is "optimistic" about the Wye River talks, especially because of the effort President Clinton is making to try to bring peace to the Middle East.
Asked by a reporter what is the most serious obstacle to an interim agreement, Arafat answered "the political decision from Mr. Netanyahu."
The Middle East leaders, accompanied by Albright, flew by helicopter to the conference center, located some 100 kilometers east of Washington. Clinton and his National Security Advisor Sandy Berger, also traveling by helicopter, joined them there later in the day.
President Clinton was to return to the White House from the Wye River Conference Center late October 15, and then fly October 16 to Chicago for a Democratic party fundraiser. But instead of going on to St. Louis, as originally planned, he will return to the White House early that evening.
"This just seemed like the right thing to do to get him back here earlier on Friday," White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart said. "Given all the demands we've put on him for this week, and the fact that he'll be at work probably all weekend ... we are going to bring him back here earlier" than originally planned.
Clinton will be available throughout the weekend to return to the Wye Conference Center if he is needed there, Lockhart said.