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Albright Persuades Palestinians and Israelis to Resume Peace Negotiations

By John M. Goshko
The Washington Post

With Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright acting as mediator, Israeli and Palestinian leaders agreed Monday to revive their stalled peace talks by returning to discussion of issues such as releasing Palestinian prisoners, redeploying Israeli forces from parts of the West Bank and providing an airport and seaport in Gaza.

In addition, the two sides agreed to meet in Washington on Oct. 13 to seek ways of advancing the peace process beyond these so-called "interim measures."

While the talks will be the first since negotiations were suspended in March, officials called Monday's progress a sign of how far both sides have to go.

"I think we have arrested the downward spiral and taken a small step forward," Albright said at a news conference after a day of talks with Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy and Palestinian Authority negotiator Mahmoud Abbas, who also is known as Abu Mazen.

Israel and the Palestinians had looked to Albright to find a way to get the process back on track after it had bogged down in mutual anger and recrimination.

The government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu '76 has accused the Palestinian Authority and its president, Yasser Arafat, of failing to crack down sufficiently on Palestinian terrorists who have killed large numbers of Israelis in suicide bomb attacks.

The Palestinians have reacted angrily to the Netanyahu government's policy of building Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem and sealing Palestinian areas from Israel in retaliation for suicide bombings.

But, starting with a visit by Albright to the Middle East earlier this month, the two sides have indicated that they wanted her to find a way for them to step back from confrontation and start talking again. Senior U.S. officials said that through phone calls and lower-level negotiations that intensified here last week as Albright and Levy attended the United Nations General Assembly, a consensus gradually was reached on the agenda announced Monday.

Its most immediate effect is to restart meetings of eight joint committees set up to deal with matters like giving the Palestinians a functioning airport and seaport, freeing transit of Palestinians between the West Bank and Gaza and moving ahead with the long-delayed Israeli troop redeployments from Palestinian areas.

Under the Oslo agreements, all of these matters were to have been concluded long ago. Instead they have proceeded in fits and starts, finally bogging down completely as the acrimony between Arafat and Netanyahu came to a head last spring.