Denying that it is applying pressure or putting a deadline on Israel, the Clinton administration is trying again to sell Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on U.S. terms for resuming Mideast peace talks.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, in a speech Tuesday, was underscoring the priority the administration attaches to ending a 15-month impasse in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.A senior U.S. official said Albright would "not point fingers or blame" in her speech at the National Press Club. Still, it was likely to draw the public's attention to Netanyahu's differences with the administration on peace terms even though Albright was not planning to lay out the U.S. position.
In a public relations offensive, she also called in Abraham D. Foxman, executive director of the Anti-Defamation League, and Howard Kohr, executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
On Capitol Hill, though, Sen. John Ashcroft, R-Mo., said it was Albright - not Netanyahu - who should reconsider.
"A two-week reprieve from the administration's railroading of Israel's foreign policy is needed," he said.
"Yasser Arafat recently described the peace accords with Israel as a temporary truce and said he admired Arab suicide warriors and would like to become one," Ashcroft said.
Under those conditions, the senator said, "trading land for peace makes little sense."
Netanyahu's refusal to agree to the administration's proposal for a 13 percent withdrawal from the West Bank blocked plans for a three-way Mideast summit here Monday, with President Clinton and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. But Clinton is persisting.
Additionally, the administration wants Israel to suspend construction of new homes for Jews in East Jerusalem, which Arafat claims for the capital of a Palestinian state, or on the West Bank.
After reviewing his options, Clinton directed Albright to forgo a trip to Germany with him and meet with Netanyahu here on Wednesday. "The objective of these discussions will be to seek to overcome the remaining differences," Clinton said in a statement.
Netanyahu, due in Washington Wednesday evening for speeches to Jewish groups and meetings with congressional leaders, will arrive a half-day earlier for the session with Albright. He and Albright failed to reach agreement over two days of talks last week in London.
Where there evidently is room for bargaining is the way a 13 percent pullback would be implemented.
In Jerusalem, Israeli radio and officials said Netanyahu would bring to Washington a new proposal under which Israel would withdraw from 9 percent of the West Bank over a 12-week period and hold an additional 4 percent of the area in reserve.
The United States would be allowed to determine when it should be handed over. The timing would be based on how Palestinian authorities complied with a series of obligations to crack down on Palestinian militants, end hostile propaganda against Israel and revise references in their covenant that call for the destruction of Israel, Israeli officials said.