Clinton plays more mutes role in renewed attempt to revive peace process

 

President Clinton played down expectations from the Middle East summit in Egypt as he flew there yesterday amid criticism that he may have pushed too hard for a final peace settlement at Camp David last June.

Mr Clinton summarised his hopes from the summit at Sharm el-Sheikh as "to stop the violence, to restore common safety, to agree on a fact-finding mechanism concerning how this began. . . and to find a way back to dialogue and negotiation."

Mr Clinton is accompanied by his Secretary of State, Ms Madeleine Albright, who said before leaving that Chairman Yasser Arafat "has the responsibility for controlling the violence. We think he should do more".

She said that the US had few illusions about the summit being able to lead to a resumption of the peace negotiations which broke down at Camp David over sovereignty over Jerusalem. "I think the important point here is that we have to try to reduce the violence," she said on the This Week television programme.

Despite Israeli scepticism about Mr Arafat's peace intentions, Ms Albright said that "he has to be the one that engages in the negotiations. You `cannot choose your partner"'.

For Mr Clinton, this meeting is a far cry from the hopes he once had when summoning the Camp David summit in spite of reservations from Mr Arafat that the time was not ripe. Mr Clinton hoped that the summit would produce a peace settlement which would solve one of the world's most intractable problems and be a spectacular contribution to his presidential legacy.

Mr Clinton at the weekend asked for "prayers" to help him in "an attempt to put things back together" in the Middle East when he met Hispanic women during a fundraising trip to Denver, Colorado.

The terrorist attack on the US navy ship in Aden which killed 17 American sailors last week has also cast a shadow over the President's years of efforts to achieve a Middle East peace settlement. He will fly back from the summit for a memorial service for the dead sailors on Wednesday.

Unlike at Camp David, Mr Clinton will this time not have the role of sole mediator at today's summit. Mr Arafat is said to no longer trust Mr Clinton to act as a sufficiently impartial broker in peace talks following Camp David when the President publicly expressed disappointment that the Palestinian leader had not responded positively to the proposals from the Israeli Prime Minister, Mr Ehud Barak, concerning the status of Jerusalem.

Mr Arafat has been anxious to have the UN Secretary General, Mr Kofi Annan, and other Arab countries such as Egypt and Jordan at this summit as a counterweight to what he now sees as American tilting towards Israel.

Mr Clinton said before leaving for the summit that the US would continue to give "strong support" to the search for peace. "We have a profound national interest in peace in the Middle East and a very special bond to the state of Israel," he said.