Time For Israel, Palestinians to Make Big Decisions: Barak

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak said Wednesday that it is time for both Israel and Palestinians to make big decisions when they hold a tripartite summit with the United States next week in Camp David.

"We are entering a critical period of the peace process which asks for decisions of great importance from the leaders of both sides," said Barak after a meeting with French President Jacques Chirac at the Elysee presidential palace.

He made the statement almost at the same time as U.S. President Bill Clinton announced in Washington that he will host a summit meeting with Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Camp David early next week.

"There are great chances but also great risks.... We are determined to do our best to ensure a best future for Israel thanks to a peace agreement with all our neighbors, if it does not put into peril our vital national interests," said the Israeli prime minister.

France, which took over the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union (EU) this month, has welcomed the summit but remains prudent about its results.

The spokeswoman of the Elysee presidential palace, Catherine Colonna, said that the summit will be useful on the condition that it is well prepared and both sides bring with them "a spirit of peace."

The Israeli prime minister, who arrived Wednesday from London, wanted to seek the EU's help to stop the Palestinians from unilaterally declaring an independent state in September.

Palestinian leaders decided Monday to declare an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital on September 13 in accordance with agreements signed with Israel in Washington in 1993.

In a statement of principle on the Palestinian problem released in Berlin in December 1999, EU countries said they recognize the right of Palestinians to establish their own state and are ready to recognize an independent Palestinian state at an opportune time.

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