Clinton's Dream: A Sewn-Up Mideast Summit

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Who wants a Camp David-style summit the most? Senior White House aides are counter-spinning reports that President Clinton is desperate for a Middle East triumph before his administration turns out the lights in seven months. Instead, they say, Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat are the ones pushing the hardest for an American-led confab. Clinton "is the most reluctant" to jump in "without knowing that there's a prospect for a resolution," an administration official claims.

The spinning started Sunday after Israeli and Palestinian negotiators flew back to the Mideast, having haggled in Washington last week over land-for-peace arrangements. So far, everyone's keeping mum on any progress they might have achieved, leaving the details as to how much each side will compromise on such critical issues as borders for a Palestinian state or the status of Jerusalem until Barak and Arafat are in the same room with Clinton. Fine, says the administration aide, but "you've got to be in the same ballpark before you can get into the same room," and the two sides are still too far apart. Clinton has come up empty-handed in his last two Mideast diplomatic forays and he doesn't want to be embarrassed a third time. To increase his chances of closing a deal during a summit, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will likely jet to the region next week to nudge the two sides closer.