Meanwhile, Back in the Middle East . . .

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WASHINGTON: With allegations of scandal engulfing the White House, wrestling with the deadlocked Mideast peace process must have rarely seemed so attractive to Bill Clinton.

The president completes a round of meetings with Benjamin Netanyahu and Yasser Arafat Thursday. Arafat looked nonplused ahead of the meeting as reporters fired questions about Monica Lewinsky at Clinton. As with Netanyahu, Clinton and Arafat will reconvene tonight to discuss the President's proposals for direct Arafat-Netanyahu talks chaired by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Is the swirling crisis taking the President's eye off the ball? "It's too early to say," says TIME State Department correspondent Dean Fischer. "The amazing thing to me is how the President seems to be able to compartmentalize his problems. But that's not to say the scandal rumors won't have an impact in the future." And that's a possibility on which Saddam Hussein and others will likely be keeping a close eye.