Mid-East talks deadlock

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ATTEMPTS by the US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, to re-start the Middle East peace talks yielded no progress after the first day of meetings in Jerusalem yesterday, with the position of both the Palestinians and Israelis firmly entrenched.

The Palestinian leaders continued to insist last night that they could not return to the talks without a resolution of the Palestinian deportee issue, while Israel made clear it had no intention of making further concessions.

Hanan Ashrawi, the Palestinian spokeswoman, described the delegation's meeting with Mr Christopher as 'candid', saying they had demanded the full implementation of United Nations Resolution 799, calling for the immediate return of the deportees before a resumption of negotiations.

She said that agreement by Israel to speed up the appeals process for the deportees would not be enough to bring the Palestinians back to the talks, because what mattered was 'not a question of numbers but of legality'.

'What we expect is a statement of the illegality of the deportations from America and Israel,' she said. 'We are not in the process of making compromises. Under the present conditions I do not think the peace talks can resume. We have to try to change the conditions to make them resume.'

On the Israeli side, Shimon Peres, the Foreign Minister, said that Mr Christopher had promised to abide by the US-Israeli compromise deal, agreed between the two countries two weeks ago, whereby Israel offered to bring back 101 of the 400 deportees early. Mr Peres appeared confident that the US would not press Israel to compromise further.

As another day of talks commences today, Mr Christopher appears to be putting more pressure on the Palestinians than on the Israelis to break the deadlock. Mr Christopher arrived in Jerusalem after a tour of Arab capitals, warning that the Palestinians might be isolated if they refused to return to the talks.

He has gained the clear impression that Arab leaders, particularly the Syrians, who have blurred the linkage between the deportation issue and a re-start of the talks, are keen to go back to negotiations soon. In recent days the Israelis have also been raising the spectre of Palestinian isolation in a continuing peace process.