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Ladies and gentlemen, let me begin by congratulating the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies for this distinguished gathering. I want to thank the center, and Barbara Stowasser in particular, for the invitation to speak on the Middle East peace process.
For many in the Middle East, this is a time of promise and growing expectation. The political leaders engaged in negotiations have started the region's transition from an era of conflict, and they recognize that continued movement toward peace and normal relations is imperative. Yet this will necessarily be a rough road. The obstacles that the process has experienced, and those to come, are not just related to the intrinsic difficulties of the issues under negotiation - as the prospects for peace grow brighter, they also include the growing efforts by extremists to do what they can to sabotage the process.
Today, I want to talk to you about the multilateral dimension of the peace process, the second of the two tracks or levels established by the October 1991 Madrid peace conference. Although it has attracted fewer headlines than the bilateral track, its achievements and contribution to the overall peace process are worthy of our attention. First, however, let me set the stage with a few remarks on the current scene.
The Hebron Detour
Last February 25, the world was stunned by the massacre of worshippers at a Hebron mosque. The impact on the peace process was immediate. Israeli-Palestinian talks on implementing the Declaration of Principles signed last September stopped. Bilateral talks in Washington involving Israelis, Jordanians, Lebanese, Palestinians, and Syrians came to a halt a couple of days before the scheduled recess.
While formal negotiations stopped, contacts between the parties did not. Israelis and Palestinians quickly resumed contact to address the security concerns that came to light with the Hebron massacre. We, Egypt, Norway, and Russia energetically engaged with parties to the negotiations. President Clinton and Secretary Christopher were regularly on the phone with Israeli and Arab leaders, and our Middle East peace team twice …