Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak assured Yasser Arafat yesterday that he intends to withdraw troops promptly from a portion of the West Bank while pursuing an overall Middle East peace settlement.
"There is no reason to wait," Barak said as he wound up a six-day visit to the United States that included hours of private talks with President Clinton about reviving Israel's peace talks with the Palestinians, Syria and Lebanon.
While Clinton promised continuing U.S. support, the trip appeared to herald a shift away from U.S. micromanagement of the negotiations. In parallel statements yesterday, Vice President Gore and Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright deferred to Israel and its neighbors on decision-making.
"The United States should not come up with its own decisions how to resolve these issues," Gore said.
Albright expressed support for Barak's goal of achieving the framework of a peace accord within 15 months. But, she said, "It's obviously up to him [Barak] and others to set deadlines or framework periods of time."
In Gaza, Arafat called the 15-month timetable unacceptable. He demanded "immediate and speedy implementation" of the Wye River accord he struck with Israel last October, which calls for an Israeli pullout from an additional 13.1 percent of the West Bank.
"I fully agree with him," Barak said at a joint news conference with Gore after lunch at the vice president's residence. "There is no reason to wait. We do intend to implement the Wye accords. I will check with him."
CAPTION: Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak said "there is no reason to wait" on West Bank troop withdrawals.