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Arafat, Albright Hold Meeting

December 1, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and PLO leader Yasser Arafat led the first meeting Tuesday of a commission set up to build stronger relations between the United States and the Palestinian Authority.

Wrapping up a three-day visit to Washington, the Palestinian leader also met with two powerful Congressional leaders: Rep. Bob Livingston, R-La., who is expected to be the new House speaker, and House minority leader Rep. Dick Gephardt, D-Mo.

The hour-long meeting with Albright focused on how the commission could channel U.S. assistance _ the Clinton administration is pledging $900 million over the next five years _ and promoting business, cultural and scientific ties, James P. Rubin, the State Department spokesman said.

``It was an initial meeting, and we discussed how to organize this process,″ Rubin said. A follow-up meeting is planned early next year, he said.

Meanwhile, The American Committee for Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, which treats Palestinians often free of charge, called on the administration to increase its relief package by providing for health care for the Palestinians.

``To help the Palestinians in their quest for independence, the United States must help Palestinians care for themselves,″ Dr. Stuart Tauber, the executive director, said in a statement.

In his Capitol Hill talks, Arafat said he discussed ``all the problems″ facing the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and possible solutions.

Livingston emerged from his first meeting with the Palestinian leader with a clearer ``understanding of the complexity of the issues,″ according to his spokesman Mark Corallo.

Arafat also scheduled a meeting with CIA director George Tenet. Tenet played a central though low-profile role in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations that resulted in the Wye agreement last October. The CIA is ensuring the implementation of the accord.

Arafat returns home with pledges of more than $3 billion from 43 nations made Monday at the end of a one-day donors conference. The assistance is to be used for water projects, road-building, the construction of a Palestinian airport and seaport and for industrial zones.

The United States intends to increase its contribution by adding $400 million to the $100 million a year it plans to donate over the next five years. The United States has contributed $500 million since 1993. Any U.S. increase would be subject to congressional approval.

Rep. Benjamin Gilman, R-N.Y., expressed concern about how the additional aid will be funded and said the United States should retain control of disbursements rather than give the funds directly to the Palestinian Authority.

``The administration should not seek to reduce funding for other programs in the Middle East to accommodate this initiative,″ said Gilman in a statement.

The meeting of the U.S.-Palestinian Joint Commission was part of an effort to strengthen ties between the United States and the Palestinian Authority, Rubin said.

It ``is part of the way in which we build our relationship with the Palestinians,″ he said.

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