President Clinton was cautious Monday about progress in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians as Secretary of State Madeleine Albright readied for a hurriedly arranged meeting with Yasser Arafat. "We have our hopes," Clinton said.

He said it was "important not to raise false hopes," and provided no details of the ongoing Middle East discussions."The posture of the talks is such that anything I say publicly to characterize the talks . . . would almost certainly reduce the chance of the parties reaching an agreement to move to final status talks.

"They have been working hard," he said of Israel and the Palestinians " . . . and they have been working in earnest and in good faith."

He added, "If we have something to say, I will be the first to microphone."

In advance of her meeting, Albright did not claim any breakthrough.

"I don't like to characterize these talks until after they happen," said Albright, who appeared with Clinton, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and Jacques Santer, president of the European Union Commission.

U.S. mediator Dennis Ross flew to London after meeting Sunday in Washington with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "Some ideas came up," an Israeli diplomat told the Associated Press in explaining Ross' trip.

Albright, already in London to brief Clinton on the intensive U.S. effort to persuade Netanyahu to hand over an additional 13 percent of the West Bank to Arafat, was due to meet with the Palestinian leader in the afternoon.

Israel radio reported that Netanyahu had agreed to withdraw from 13 percent of the West Bank now, provided he would not have to hand over more land in a third pullback.

But Martin Indyk, assistant U.S. secretary of state who has handled some of the U.S. mediation, disputed the notion of a breakthrough.