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Progress, but No Breakthrough, After Netanyahu Meets Albright

Expectations of a breakthrough in the long- deadlocked Israeli-Palestinian talks remain in the air after inconclusive talks this week between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Emerging from the 75-minute meeting at a New York hotel Wednesday afternoon, Albright said the two leaders had “made some progress” but still had “lot of work to do.”

State Department spokesman James Rubin called the session “very constructive.”

The two leaders were in New York to attend the U.N. General Assembly, which Netanyahu was scheduled to address Thursday. Albright is also expected to meet here with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who arrives Sunday.

But a meeting between Arafat and Netanyahu is unlikely, since the Israeli leader leaves New York that same day after meeting with Jewish organizational leaders, journalists and community activists. Israeli officials said a meeting between the two men had not been scheduled.

Despite intermittent phone calls — including one this week, when Arafat called Netanyahu to wish him Jewish New Year’s greetings — the two have not met since last October.

There had also been word of a possible breakthrough late last week, when U.S. Middle East envoy Dennis Ross extended his stay in the region for additional talks with the two sides.

But Ross wrapped up his 11-day mission Saturday without achieving substantial progress in the talks. Before leaving, he said, “We have made some headway, but there is still work to be done.”

The talks have focused on a U.S. initiative that calls for Israel to redeploy from an additional 13 percent of the West Bank in return for a tougher Palestinian stance on security issues.

Israeli officials have said they reached agreement on the redeployment figure, but that the Palestinians are balking on a memorandum spelling out specific steps they would take to crack down on militants.

The gaps between the sides still appear wide, given Arafat’s statement to reporters in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday that Netanyahu is destroying the peace process.

For his part, Netanyahu told reporters Wednesday that Albright now understands that Israel is ready to move forward on the peace process, and he implied that the Palestinians are holding up the process.

“If it were up to Israel and the United States, we would make progress very rapidly,” he said.

Netanyahu said the Palestinians have yet to carry out their responsibilities in making sure their territory will not become a haven for terrorists.

Observers say the two sides, reluctant even under the best of conditions to make concessions, are even less likely to do so given their perception that President Clinton, burdened with a sex scandal, is unlikely to pressure either of the two sides to live up to already-signed commitments.

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