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Albright Cites Progress, Plans to Meet with Netanyahu, Arafat

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright plans to press Israel and the Palestinians to resolve two of the most difficult issues on the peace process agenda: an Israeli “timeout” on settlement expansion and further Israeli redeployment from the West Bank.

Citing progress in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks held this week near Washington, Albright decided Thursday to meet next week with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in London and with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat in Geneva.

Lower-level Israeli and Palestinian officials will work with U.S. officials on other issues such as a Palestinian airport and seaport in the Gaza Strip, and on establishing a safe passage route between the West Bank and Gaza.

Upbeat Palestinian and Israeli negotiators pledged to reconvene daily beginning Sunday in the Middle East.

“It’s a very good beginning,” said Mahmoud Abbas, Arafat’s deputy, after meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy and Albright. “We did not reach an agreement but we found a good deal of understanding.”

Levy said, “We have still much work between us, but we will do it together.”

U.S. officials tried to put the best spin on the talks in hopes that they can still persuade some Arab states to send representatives to the Middle East economic conference scheduled for later this month in Doha, Qatar, which Albright is scheduled to attend.

“On some of the issues, the gaps have clearly been narrowed and progress has been made. On others, there is still work to do,” said James Rubin, State Department spokesman.

“Each side has a better appreciation of the needs and concerns of the others on the issues.”

As for the Doha conference, Rubin said, “We don’t feel a greater sense of urgency about the Middle East peace process because of the Doha conference.

“The urgency we feel about the Middle East peace process is because it’s still in trouble.”

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