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News Briefs I

Albright Cuts Short Middle East Peace Talks with Delegation Chiefs

Los Angeles Times

The long-awaited resumption of Middle East peace talks stumbled Monday when U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright cut short the first meeting, complaining that the Palestinian delegation does not include the technical experts needed for detailed negotiations with Israelis.

Albright convened a preliminary meeting in her office with the delegation chiefs, Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy and Mahmoud Abbas, a deputy to Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

But when Albright tried to turn the talks to such nitty-gritty issues as establishment of an airport, seaport and industrial park to serve Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, she found that the Palestinian technicians were not present.

The developments were promised as part of the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian peace accords, but the two sides have been unable to agree on details.

"They're not here and without them we won't be able to make any progress," State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said of the mid-level Palestinian negotiators.

Rubin said those issues are on Albright's agenda, but that the secretary of state also hoped to make progress on lesser issues that would give average Palestinians a greater stake in the peace process.

The Palestinians have complained that Israel has been dragging its feet on interim steps promised in the peace agreement. But on Monday, Arafat called for talks on the main political issues only.

Clinton administration peace envoy Dennis B. Ross sought to hammer out a compromise on the procedural wrangle. But it was not clear when, or if, substantive talks would get under way.