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Christopher Telephones Rabin As Peace Talks Remain Stalled

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U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher spoke by phone late Monday with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, as the Middle East peace talks in Washington hovered close to a breakthrough but remained deadlocked.

Israelis and Palestinians, with energetic American mediation, have been attempting to reach agreement on a joint declaration of principles that would serve as a solid basis for setting up an autonomy plan in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

These efforts have ground to a halt over the question of Jerusalem, with Israel insisting that the capital city not be subject to negotiation and the Palestinians demanding a formulation that would leave the final status of the city open to discussion.

In several statements this week, Rabin reiterated Israel’s longstanding position that Jerusalem would remain united under Israeli sovereignty.

If the Palestinians “demand Jerusalem, they can forget about the chances of an agreement,” Rabin said in an interview published Tuesday in the French newspaper Le Monde. “There is no point in going further.”

In Washington, Ruth Yaron, the spokeswoman at the Israeli Embassy, said there was “not much to report” on the talks’ progress this week.

‘HARSH DISCUSSION’ WITH LEBANON

Yaron said the rumored American proposal for a joint Israeli-Palestinian statement had yet to be presented, and that while it was possible it would be presented by the time this 10th round of talks was scheduled to end Thursday, it would be “naive” to think the two sides could reach agreement on it before leaving Washington.

Negotiations with the Syrians remain stalled too, hindered by incomplete definitions of the extent of peace the Syrians are willing to offer Israel, and the extent to which Israel is willing to withdraw from the Golan Heights.

Rabin said this week that Israel has presented Syria with a proposal to implement peace through a phased process. The proposal may be a way to get around Syrian repetitions of the “everything in exchange for everything” formula that it has cited.

Regarding the Israeli-Lebanese talks, Yaron said there was a “harsh discussion” Monday over the issues of Israeli and Syrian control over Lebanese territory in the wake of recent Katyusha rocket attacks on Israel by Hezbollah forces in southern Lebanon.

Discussions with Jordan continued in their usual businesslike fashion, with the parties meeting in working groups.

After this round of talks is over, Israeli officials expect either Christopher or — more likely — the State Department’s new coordinator for the peace talks, Dennis Ross, to visit the region in an attempt to push the process forward.

The trip apparently is to focus primarily on getting Israel and the Palestinians to agree on the joint declaration.

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