Main business of Mideast talks awaits Clinton's return

Jerusalem remains key issue at Camp David


THURMONT - The peace teams at the Camp David summit meeting were marking time yesterday waiting for President Clinton's return this afternoon from the G-8 conference in Japan, while observation of the Jewish Sabbath resuited in a day of small-group discussions.

American officials, who have honored a news blackout, did not divulge even the daily schedule or menu yesterday. It remained unclear whether progress has been made in Clinton's absence, or whether he will return to face the same key dispute over Jerusalem's sovereignty and whether that dispute still holds the power to shut down the open-ended summit meeting without a resolution.

Friday, Prime Minister Ehud Barak of Israel, Indirectly through confidants, and Clinton, directly to reporters, expressed hope that the meeting could produce an agreement, which suggested that the impasse had been broken.

But, from Egpt a spokesman for President Hosni Mubarak, whom all three leaders have consulted during their days here, said that the situation inside had deteriorated since Clinton's departure, with the Israelis demonstrating inflexibility. "Let's wait until Clinton comes back," said Maged Abdel Fattah, the Spokesman.

Abdel Fattah said that he was not sure if the Egyptian president had played a role in extending the meeting, which was pronounced dead and then reborn within the space of 1 1/2 hours late Wednesday night. Mubarak had been asked to help, and he was trying, the spokesman said. During his phone call with Clinton on Wednesday, the conversation focused on Jerusalem and specifically "on ways and means to convince Chairman Arafat," he said.

"But President Mubarak stressed that Jerusalem is the core issue in this whole conference," Abdel Fattah said. "The Issues of refugees and the percentage of land are issues that, with some compromise, will fall into place."

The Israelis have reportedly softened their position to consider extending limited or joint sovereignty to the Palestinians in some Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem, while leaving the status quo in the walled Old City, home to Christians, Muslims, Jews and holy sites for all three monotheistic faiths.

But Arafat has insisted that he does not have a mandate from the Arab world to do anything less than regain soverignty over all of East Jerusalem, which was lost to Israel during the 1967 war.

"We all have full trust in Arafat's judgment," Abdel Fattah said. "We don't cast any doubt on his handling of Jerusalem and the holy places. Most -- well, maybe you can exclude some ... in Iran -- believe this."

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