Arafat Meets with Clinton on Middle East Peace Progress

By Bob Melvin | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

( - Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat met with President Clinton and Secretary of State Madelaine Albright on Thursday to discuss the difficulties surrounding current Middle East peace talks.

Clinton said after his White House meeting with Arafat that he feels the "'risks and difficulties" involved in achieving peace can be bridged, and he hoped that the US still could facilitate the process by helping Israel and the Palestinians meet a September deadline for a final agreement.

Arafat arrived at the White House by automobile on Thursday evening. Clinton received Arafat exactly as he received Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak last week -- meeting him at the White House's South Portico and walking together across the Rose Garden to the Oval Office.

"There are risks and difficulties involved," Clinton said after his talk with Arafat. "'I believe they are not nearly as great as the risks and difficulties of not making a peace agreement. So I hope they will do it. ... I will do everything I can to help them."

State Department spokesman James Rubin stated that "Everyone is agreed that we will play a more involved role by being at the table, trying to be creative, trying to help each side figure out what its needs are."

White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said the Palestinians and Israelis face "'a very tight time line," and Clinton wanted the face-to-face sessions to see how the United States could keep the negotiations on track.

When Clinton met with Barak last week, the discussion focused on the need for an accelerated pace and that appeared to be the focus of the Arafat discussion as well.

Lockhart said Clinton wanted to "take stock of where we are" without offering any new proposals.

The talks on a treaty framework are to begin after the Jewish Passover holiday ending on April 26th. Negotiators will meet in Israel and the Palestinian areas, rather than in Washington, as they have done in two previous rounds.

The Palestinians claim that no progress has been made since talks on a blueprint for a peace treaty began last November.
Rubin said he was not aware that there were any new US ideas that were being presented on Thursday or anytime within the near future. This did not rule out the possibility of "creative suggestions" at some point, he said.

Israel and the Palestinians face a May deadline for a treaty framework and a September target for a full accord.

Barak said on Sunday that he would turn over West Bank land that would give the Palestinians the territorial contiguity they need for statehood. Barak also assured his hard-line Israeli critics that Jerusalem would remain united under Israeli sovereignty.
However, Palestinian suburbs just outside Jerusalem, claimed by both sides as their capital, would be handed over, according to Barak.