Atmosphere at Mideast talks is decidedly optimistic


WASHINGTON -- Middle East peace talks continued yesterday amid signs that Israelis, Syrians and Palestinians were willing to discuss compromises on some issues.

The discussions, like those of the last two days, dealt with general concepts and procedural questions. But Arab and Israeli negotiators reported that the atmosphere of the talks was still lTC much better than in any of the five previous rounds.

Yesterday Israelis and Palestinians discussed the powers of a proposed administrative council or legislative assembly, through which the Palestinians of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip would rule themselves.

Hanan Ashrawi, spokesman for the Palestinian delegation, mixed optimism with caution. "There is a predisposition to look very positively at everything the new Israeli government says or does," she said. "We have heard many, many statements of intent which sound extremely encouraging. But when you really look at the substance and you look at the proposals, you'll find that we do have a long way to go still."

The conciliatory tone in Washington has apparently not affected Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). In a fiery speech in Geneva yesterday, he asserted that the United States was jeopardizing its position as an even-handed sponsor of the talks by showing pro-Israeli bias.

Israel's effort to influence opinion in the Arab world became evident yesterday as it began, for the first time, to hold briefings in Arabic for Arab journalists after the session.

Mrs. Ashrawi said that the Israeli negotiators had curtailed the use of terminology that offended the Palestinians. For example, she said, the Israelis now generally avoid "terms like Judea and Samaria, that the Likud always insisted on using."

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