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Clinton, Barak try to salvage peace talks

President Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak held brief impromptu talks Saturday at Barak's hotel, rounding out a week of discussions on the Middle East peace negotiations and the security relationship between the United States and Israel.

Senior Clinton administration officials have made clear in the past several days they face an uphill struggle to try and revive the momentum of the Camp David summit six weeks ago.

With prospects fading for a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, Clinton appears keen to bolster the position of Barak in Israel, where he's likely to face a contentious Parliament when it reconvenes in late October and falling support in public-opinion surveys.

A White House spokesman, P.J. Crowley, said Clinton wanted to say goodbye before Barak left on his return to Israel. Clinton spent about an hour with the prime minister.

One of the major elements of the Israeli-American talks this week in New York focused on an upgraded security relationship with the United States. For Barak, that is a vital element in his struggle to stay in office.

If new elections are held in Israel and there is no peace agreement for Barak to run on, he must show that after making tentative concessions to the Palestinians, he also won something from the United States.

The prime minister is under intense criticism from Israel's rightist political parties, which say he made too many concessions to the Palestinians at Camp David.

For his part, Clinton has said he would like to reward the prime minister for his courage and creativity at Camp David, and his willingness to continue the peace effort now.

If the security relationship is enhanced, it will probably be in the form of increased financial military assistance to Israel.

This would have run into the billions of dollars if there had been a peace settlement with the Palestinians, but is now likely to be much less, according to administration officials.

The administration has proposed $250-million more this year, for which it would seek approval from Congress before it recesses early in October, officials said. The Israelis are saying they need nearly $1-billion, the officials said.