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Clinton Says Peace Agreement For Mideast Is ‘Within View’

By James Gerstenzang
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- LISBON, Portugal

A peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians “is within view now,” President Clinton said here Thursday as he announced that U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will travel to the region next week to narrow the differences.

The president exuded an optimism rare in the cautious world of Middle East diplomacy. He called on Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak to show “real courage and vision” and take steps they have been so far unwilling to take.

The president made his comments in a speech to U.S. Embassy employees after spending about 90 minutes with Barak. The president spoke with Arafat by telephone Wednesday afternoon.

The so-often stagnant peace process, though still stalled, has been rejuvenated in the past week and a half with the sudden withdrawal of Israeli troops from southern Lebanon after a 22-year presence. The response by the Hezbollah guerrilla movement there, which has celebrated the departure of what was seen as an occupying army, so far has been moderate.

Those developments, along with the private tenor of the talks the president has held, are at the heart of the relatively sanguine aura that has settled over the diplomacy.

“I know the differences between real negotiations and bull ... . These guys have entered into real negotiations,” said a senior administration official who took part in the meeting Thursday of the Israelis and Palestinians. “The two sides themselves are making it very clear that they’re prepared to do what they think is necessary to reach an agreement.”

But a central question remains: Can they translate intentions to reach an agreement into reality?

The sporadic negotiations are in the seventh year of what was envisaged as a three-year process set in place in Oslo, Norway, by Israeli and Palestinian negotiators. Under the latest timetable, the participants are working against a deadline of Sept. 13 to establish a settlement..