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Albright Readies For Peace Trip

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright says she will seek to narrow "the still quite wide" gaps in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians when she meets officials of the two sides in about 10 days time.

Albright is expected to meet Israeli and Palestinian officials after attending an international democracy conference in Poland on June 27, the State Department said Saturday.

Albright's visit is aimed at helping narrow the distance between the two sides' positions and determine if a summit between President Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat is warranted or possible.

"There are gaps that are still quite wide and…we need to see how much we can bring them together," Albright said in an interview on CNN's Both Sides with Jesse Jackson Sunday. The program was recorded Saturday.

Albright noted the most problematic issues for the sides to reach agreement on were Jerusalem, the borders and status of Palestinian territories, refugees and settlements.

The two sides, whose officials have been meeting at U.S. air bases in the Washington area, are looking at what the negotiators call the "final status" issues that Albright noted as the most difficult to resolve.

The United States would like to organize a three-way summit to agree on the final status issues. That would pave the way for Clinton to achieve his goal of ultimately arranging a Camp David-style summit to seal an Israeli-Palestinian peace before he leaves office in January.

The president, who has made a settlement the highest foreign policy of the seven months he has remaining in the White House, met with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat Thursday.

Albright cautioned against holding too many summits but said she could see the benefit of holding a three-way summit because it could bring about a sense of accomplishment.

"I think we need to see whether there's a chance to resolve (these) issues," she said in the CNN program, adding Washington can help nudge the two parties in the right direction but ultimately they have to make the tough calls.

"Both sides can't have 100 percent of what they want and that compromise is important," Albright said. "They're the ones that have to make those hard decisions. The president can't do it for them."

During the interview, Albright also remained upbeat about the transition of power following the death and burial last week of Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, who tended to resist concessions to Israel for three decades.

"I had the sense that the transition was moving quite smoothly as it could," Albright said of her meeting with Bashar al-Assad during her visit to attend his father's funeral last week.

"He is clearly somebody who has a different outlook," she said. "I think he made a pretty good impression on us.