Clinton, Mubarak Meet Press

At a news conference with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Thursday, President Clinton said the time is ripe for new ideas on how to achieve Middle East peace. But he added he did not want to discuss them before he met with Israeli Prime Minister-elect Ehud Barak.

"I do think that the time is ripe, but I think that before I advance publicly any ideas, I should have a chance to meet with the Prime Minister-elect, Mr. Barak," Clinton said. He is planning to meet Barak within days.

On another foreign policy matter that has claimed his attention throughout his 6 1/2-year presidency, Clinton addressed the peace talks in Northern Ireland, which are once again at a crisis point.

The president, who has a personal stake in the implementation of last year's Good Friday accord, brokered by his own peace envoy, has worked the phones in the last 24 hours trying to break the stalemate in Belfast.

"It is a very difficult problem for the parties, but it will be very hard for the world to understand if this breaks off, since everyone's agreed to the fundamental elements of the Good Friday agreement," Clinton said.

"To call it a tragedy would be a gross understatement."

He added that the British, Irish and political leaders of Northern Ireland "do seem determined to work it through to a positive conclusion."

Asked about the lingering stalemate with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Clinton reiterated that he supports relaxing an international embargo for strictly humanitarian reasons.

"I've never wanted the Iraqi people to suffer because of their leader," Clinton said.

But, he added, "I do not believe we should give up on an attempt, an insistence, indeed, that the United Nations, in return for this" should demand strict arms control measures.