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Arafat, Rabin taking center stage at White House

By
LORI SANTOS

WASHINGTON -- President Bill Clinton set the White House stage Sunday to preside at the signing Monday of the Israeli-Palestinian mutual recognition treaty with the anticipation of it being a turning point in world history.

Both sides asked that the United States, which since the Truman era has played the role of peacemaker in seeking to end Arab-Israeli hostility, be the host at a ceremony where the two longtime foes will bury the hatchet.

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The festive South Lawn ceremony was to be marked by bands and flags and witnessed by between 2,500 to 3,000 guests.

Those attending were to include former U.S. presidents Jimmy Carter and George Bush, as well as former secretaries of state and Middle East troubleshooters. Administrations of both parties were preoccupied with the Israeli-Arab crises.

Clinton, in an ebullient mood because the breakthrough occurred on his watch, prepared a dazzling dinner at the White House Monday evening.

'Hopeful, very hopeful,' Clinton told reporters Sunday when asked for his expectations for Monday's events.

While aides engaged in frantic preparations, Clinton attended Sunday church services and later had a leisurely lunch at the Sequoia Restaurant overlooking the Potomac River.

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Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was to be accorded all high privileges of protocol during his brief stay in the United States. He was to have a private meeting Monday afternoon with Clinton.

He was to arrive in Washington before dawn Monday morning. Rabin held out the prospect that another step toward peace will be taken Tuesday when Israel and Jordan announce a timetable for peace negotiations at the State Department. Accords with Syria and Lebanon may follow.

The spotlight also will be on Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yassar Arafat, whose last U.S. visit occurred in 1974 when he spoke before the United Nations.

Arafat was scheduled to arrive with his entourage in Washington Sunday afternoon. It was to be the PLO leader's first visit to Washington. When Arafat decided to come, Clinton persuaded Rabin to do the same.

White House and State Department officials worked the entire weekend to make the arrangements for the biggest event in Washington since Clinton's inaugural.

Senior aides to Secretary of State Warren Christopher said Sunday the accord was scheduled to be signed by Rabin and Arafat and witnessed by Christopher and Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev.

The White House has been besieged with calls from dignitaries, journalists and interested parties seeking invitations to the historic event.

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Extremely tight security arrangements were being made to ensure the safety of the principals, both of whom have incurred the wrath of the hardliners with the agreement reached last week.

The plan calls for Israel to give autonomy to the PLO over the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho.

Still in dispute are other areas of the West Bank and the status of Jerusalem, the eastern section of which was annexed by Israel in 1967.

Rabin said Sunday on the U.S. television network NBC that Jerusalem will remain the Israeli capital.

Under current arrangements, Rabin was to arrive first at the White House north portico at 10 a.m. (1400 gmt) and be escorted to the Green Room, where he was to sign the guest book and probably meet Clinton.

Arafat and his party was to arrive at the White House at 10:30 a.m. (1430 gmt) and be escorted to the South Lawn.

Both Rabin and Arafat were to be seated at the Cabinet table, first used at the White House from 1869 until 1902.

Since then it has been resurrected for use in the Treaty Room in the family quarters and was used for the signing of the Camp David accord on March 26, 1979.

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Others at the table were to be Christopher, Kozyrev, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Abu Mazin, the PLO official who conducted secret negotiations with Peres in Oslo, Norway, over a 14-month period.

Brief speeches, running two to four minutes, were to be made by Rabin, Arafat, Kozyrev and Clinton.

Afterward, the key players were to attend a luncheon at the State Department.

Communications director Mark Gearan told reporters, 'We are awed by the task ahead of us and humbled by the chance to be making history.'

He said the president was 'excited to have the opportunity to host what is an historic breakthrough.'NEWLN: ccccqqe

While little was expected to be decided specifically about future commitments to the peace process, including by the United States, the administration was hopeful that another step toward peace will be taken Tuesday when Israel and Jordan announce a timetable for peace negotiations at the State Department. Accords with Syria and Lebanon may follow.

White House and State Department officials worked the entire weekend to make the arrangements for the biggest event in Washington since Clinton's inaugural.

Extremely tight security arrangements were being made to ensure the safety of the principals, both of whom have incurred the wrath of the hardliners with the agreement reached last week.

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The plan calls for Israel to give autonomy to the PLO over the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho.

Still in dispute were other areas of the West Bank and the status of Jerusalem, the eastern section of which was annexed by Israel in 1967. Rabin said Sunday on the NBC television network that Jerusalem will remain the Israeli capital.

Arrangements centered around the historic signing ceremony, scheduled for around 11 a.m. (1500 gmt).

The accord actually was scheduled to be signed by Peres and Mahmoud Abbas, a chief negotiator and member of the PLO's ruling Executive Committee, with Rabin and Arafat looking on.

Both were to be seated at the Cabinet table, first used at the White House from 1869 until 1902. Since then it has been resurrected for use in the Treaty Room in the family quarters and was used for the signing of the Camp David accord on March 26, 1979.

Before the signing, Clinton was to meet in the White House's Blue Room with Rabin and Arafat, Peres, Abbas, Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev, Secretary of State Warren Christopher, Vice President Al Gore, and Carter and Bush.

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Then, after proceeding outside to the South Lawn, Clinton was to speak, followed by Peres and Abbas. The document was to be signed, after which Christopher, Kozyrev, Rabin and finally Arafat were to speak before Clinton closes the ceremony.

But officials were mum on who would be shaking whose hand, including whether there would be a repeat of the historic three-way handshake in 1979 between Carter, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egypt's late Anwar Sadat.

'We haven't scripted what they will do every step of the way,' the administration official insisted.

But little was expected in the way of surprises, with one aide saying, 'We are not expecting theatrics of any kind.'

'This is a momentous and historic occasion,' said an official. 'The ceremony will be a sober and dignified one, suitable to the occasion.'

Afterward, Christopher was to host a luncheon for foreign ministers at the State Department and, since the Israelis were scheduled to depart, plans for a glitzy dinner at the White House were shelved and about 25 couples were to be invited instead to a small dinner to honor the former presidents.NEWLN: ccccqqe

President Clinton set the White House stage Sunday to preside at the signing Monday of the Israeli-Palestinian mutual recognition treaty that will mark a turning point in world history.

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Both sides requested that the United States, which since the Truman era has played the role of peacemaker in seeking to end the decades-long Arab-Israeli hostility, be the host at a ceremony where the two longtime foes will begin the process of burying the hatchet.

The festive South Lawn ceremony will be witnessed by 3,000 guests. Attending will be former Presidents Jimmy Carter and George Bush, as well as former secretaries of state, foreign ministers from around the world and Middle East troubleshooters.

Clinton, who expressed amazement in an interview published Sunday that the momentous and historic breakthrough had occurred, told reporters he was 'hopeful, very hopeful' about the process and the prospects for future peace in the long-troubled region now that the enemies are set to recognize each other's legitimacy.

While aides engaged in frantic preparations, Clinton jogged, attended Sunday church services and had a leisurely lunch at the Sequoia Restaurant overlooking the Potomac River.

The president has stressed that the ceremony will only mark the beginning of a lengthy process needed now to heal the deep wounds between the Arabs and Israelis, who have battled each other for territory since 1948.

Clinton was said to be eager to help both sides 'open a new and more hopeful chapter in the history' of the region, said spokesman Mark Gearan. 'We are awed by the task ahead of us and humbled by the work we are confronting.'

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A senior administration official, briefing reporters on Monday's proceedings, said Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, accompanied by Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, would be accorded all high privileges of protocol during their brief stay in the United States.

The two scheduled a private meeting Monday afternoon with Clinton and plan to return to Israel in the early evening.

But the spotlight will be on Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat, whose last visit occurred in 1974 when he spoke before the United Nations. The PLO leader, however, will not meet privately with the president, as the United States does not officially recognize his organization.

Arafat and his delegation, however, will meet with Christopher in the afternoon.

Arrving with his entourage at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington Sunday afternoon for his first visit to Washington, Arafat was clad in his light fatigues and ascot, but once at the White House, will have to leave his Smith & Wesson pistol at the door.

'It is a longstanding policy in the White House that firearms are not allowed. That applies to everbody,' the official said.

While little was expected to be decided specifically about future commitments to the peace process, including by the United States, the administration was hopeful that another step toward peace will be taken Tuesday when Israel and Jordan announce a timetable for peace negotiations at the State Department. Accords with Syria and Lebanon may follow.

Advertisement

White House and State Department officials worked the entire weekend to make the arrangements for the biggest event in Washington since Clinton's inaugural.

Extremely tight security arrangements were being made to ensure the safety of the principals, both of whom have incurred the wrath of the hardliners with the agreement reached last week. The plan calls for Israel to give autonomy to the PLO over the Gaza strip and the West Bank town of Jericho.

Still in dispute are other areas of the West Bank and the status of Jerusalem, the eastern section of which was annexed by Israel in 1967. Rabin said Sunday on NBC-TV's 'Meet the Press' that Jerusalem will remain the Israeli capital.

Arrangements centered around the historic signing ceremony, scheduled for around 11 a.m. EDT.

The accord will actually be signed by Peres and Mahmoud Abbas, a chief negotiator and member of the PLO executive committee, with Rabin and Arafat looking on.

Both will be seated at the cabinet table, first used at the White House from 1869 until 1902. Since then it has been resurrected for use in the Treaty Room in the family quarters and was used for the signing of the Camp David Accord on March 26, 1979.

Advertisement

Before the signing, Clinton will meet in the White House's Blue Room with Rabin and Arafat, Peres, Abbas, Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev, Secretary of State Warren Christopher, Vice President Al Gore, and Carter and Bush.

Then, after proceeding outside to the South Lawn, Clinton will speak, followed by Peres and Abbas. The document will be signed, after which Christopher, Kozyrev, Rabin and finally Arafat will speak before Clinton closes the ceremony.

But officials were mum on who would be shaking whose hand, including whether there would be a repeat of the historic three-way handshake in 1979 between Carter, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egypt's late Anwar Sadat.

'We haven't scripted what they will do every step of the way,' the official insisted.

However, little was expected in the way of surprises, with one aide saying, 'We are not expecting theatrics of any kind.'

'This is a momentous and historic occasion,' said an official. 'The cermeony will be a sober and dignified one, suitable to the occasion.'

Afterward, Christopher will host a luncheon for foreign ministers at the State Department and since the Israelis are scheduled to depart, plans for a glitzy dinner at the White House were shelved and about 25 couples will be invited instead to a small dinner to honor the former presidents.

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