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Netanyahu and Arafat Agree to Conference in Washington

By Tyler Marshall
and Norman Kempster
Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON

Ending more than a year of icy hostility, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat agreed after a 90-minute meeting at the White House on Monday to hold a summit meeting in Washington next month.

President Clinton, who presided over Monday's talks, pronounced "significant progress" although other U.S. officials said the results so far were more atmospheric than substantive.

A senior administration official said Netanyahu and Arafat were "anxious to do a deal - probably for different reasons." Both men eagerly agreed to Clinton's proposal for a mid-October summit, even though few of their nettlesome disputes have been resolved.

Netanyahu and Arafat, who have refused to talk to each other for almost 18 months, broke the ice in a face-to-face meeting in New York with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, which began shortly before midnight Sunday. It was during that meeting that the antagonists agreed to Monday's White House talks.

Originally, Arafat and Netanyahu were scheduled to meet with Clinton separately, Netanyahu on Monday and Arafat Tuesday, following the Israeli delegation's return home.

Speaking to reporters in the Oval Office with the two Middle East leaders at his side, Clinton said Albright will travel to the Mideast early next month to prepare for the summit talks, which officials said will be a negotiation over how to move into the final phase of the 1993 Oslo, Norway, peace accords.

A senior official who is close to the negotiating process said some progress was made during the past year of separate meetings between U.S. mediators and Israeli and Palestinian officials. But he said the pace was "excruciatingly slow." He said there was little prospect of a breakthrough without an intensive Netanyahu-Arafat meeting.

Clinton, Netanyahu and Arafat all declined to discuss the details of their meeting. But the change in mood was dramatic.

Later Monday, Arafat told the U.N. General Assembly that the Palestinians are determined to establish a state of their own. But he did not even suggest that he might declare unilateral statehood next May 4, the date that the existing interim peace agreement is supposed to be supplanted with a permanent settlement.