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Middle East Peace Talks Start With No Signs of Compromise

By Norman Kempster
Los Angeles Times

Warning that neither side can hope to get everything it wants, President Clinton on Thursday welcomed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat to summit talks intended to break a stubborn stalemate in the Middle East peace process.

"As in any difficult problem, neither side can expect to win 100 percent on every point," Clinton said after meeting with Netanyahu and Arafat. "Concessions that seem hard now will seem far less important in the light of an accord that moves Israelis and Palestinians closer to lasting peace."

But in their own remarks to reporters, Netanyahu and Arafat showed no sign of readiness for the kind of compromises Clinton and his aides say are necessary if the talks are to succeed.

Netanyahu stressed Israel's security demands, while Arafat underlined the Palestinians' aspirations for a state of their own, in effect restating positions both sides have clung to since talks broke down early last year.

After an opening session at the White House, Netanyahu and Arafat retreated to a secluded compound on Maryland's Eastern Shore for talks expected to last at least until Monday. Clinton joined them at the Wye Plantation about two hours later than planned, having been delayed by budget negotiations with the Republican-controlled Congress.

White House officials said Clinton does not plan to attend every Mideast negotiating session, as then-President Carter did during the 18-day Camp David conference in 1978 that led to the Israel-Egypt peace treaty, Israel's first with an Arab state.

In addition to the Netanyahu-Arafat meetings, the two Middle East leaders will meet separately with Clinton, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and peace envoy Dennis B. Ross.

"We are just going to be very, very flexible," one senior administration official said. "There will be walks in the woods. There will be small dinners, late dinners. I expect we'll be up late. The president likes to stay up late anyway, and so do they."