Blair hope for London peace talks

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The Independent Online
TONY BLAIR is hoping for a breakthrough in the stalled Middle East peace process to emerge from talks in London with the warring parties tomorrow.

Britain is hosting a critical summit bringing together the American and Israeli governments and Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organisation, aimed at breaking the dangerous stalemate that has brought negotiations to a virtual halt.

Madeleine Albright, US Secretary of State, flew into London overnight armed with a fresh statement of American proposals to kick-start the peace process. She will outline her ideas to Foreign Secretary Robin Cook at a dinner in his official residence at 1 Carlton Gardens tonight.

Mrs Albright is to have separate talks with Mr Arafat and Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, tomorrow, to sound out the prospects for a resumption of bilateral negotiations on the way forward for talks. Mr Blair will also meet both key players at Downing Street, with the Foreign Secretary.

Foreign Office officials were last night keen to play down the prospects of a breakthrough, while insisting that if a sudden shift away from stalemate did occur, then the summit could be extended indefinitely.

As things stand, Mrs Albright is scheduled to give a close-of-summit media briefing tomorrow evening, suggesting that the Americans are not optimistic about a radical departure from the entrenched positions of the Israelis and Palestinians.

A Foreign Office official admitted: "I don't think everybody is expecting a breakthrough. If it happens, it will be marvellous. There are still some big gaps. It will be very difficult to get a breakthrough. At best, we can narrow the gaps between the entrenched positions of the two sides and a re-establishment of confidence in the negotiating process."

Britain's role in the peace process, Foreign Office sources stressed last night, is essentially supportive to that of the US, and the UK believes the US proposals on gradual Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories is the best way forward.