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Golan looms over Clinton-Netanyahu talks

Washington (AP) - President Bill Clinton said yesterday the recent Israeli- Palestinian agreement had created "a renewed sense of promise in the Middle East" but added that comprehensive peace rests on Syria resuming negotiations with Israel.

Mr Clinton, after meeting the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said the two leaders engaged in "extensive discussions" about Syria and the peace process. But Mr Clinton declined to reveal details when he was asked if the two leaders had discussed any new Israeli proposals for land concessions in the Golan Heights.

Mr Clinton said discussing specifics of any new Israeli proposals would set back negotiations. "I do feel encouraged by the discussions we have had," he added. Mr Netanyahu said Syria could show its good faith by exerting its influence in Lebanon to reduce the military capacity of Hezbollah terrorists. Until then, he said, Israel would not withdraw troops from Lebanon, because "if we simply walked away ... Hezbollah and other terrorists would simply come to the [border] and attack our towns and villages."

It was Mr Clinton's first meeting with Mr Netanyahu since the Israeli leader and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat ended a dangerous impasse last month by agreeing to, and then implementing, Israel's pullout from Hebron and parts of the West Bank. Referring to the agreement, Mr Clinton said: "There is a renewed sense of promise in the Middle East."

Mr Netanyahu said Israel had acted boldly and that the next move should come from others. "I think we've taken bold steps for peace," he said. "It's time that we see such steps from our partners as well.

"If we have this mutuality, we will have, I think, a great future, a different future and hope for our children and our grandchildren."

In talks with Mr Netanyahu, Mr Clinton explored possible steps to resume talks with Syria. Israeli-Syrian discussions were broken off a year ago after Islamic militants carried out suicide bombings in Israel.

Syria is insisting Israel must return the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau along its border which Israel captured in the 1967 Six-Day War. Mr Netanyahu was said to have brought to Washington a territorial compromise on the Golan.

In separate talks with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Mr Netanyahu said Israel had fulfilled commitments it made in agreements with the Palestinians and the Arabs and he expected the Palestinians to reciprocate. He demanded that the Palestinians close their offices in East Jerusalem and combat terrorism.