British Official Says ‘stagnation’ of Mideast Peace Process Poses a Danger of a New Conflict

A high ranking British official was warned of Syrian plans to dominate the region, during a two-day visit to Israel, and he in turn warned his hosts that the present “stagnation” of the peace process in the Middle East posed the danger of a new conflict.

Richard Luce, Minister of State at the Foreign Office responsible for Middle East policy, said at a dinner in his honor last night that both Britain and Israel should be deeply concerned by the lack of movement toward peace. Stagnation leads to frustration and frustration could lead to violence, he said.

Luce said that while Britain would not preach to the parties, it would try to help them move ahead through negotiations. He agreed with the Israelis that negotiations were the only way to make progress.

Luce, who arrived here yesterday on a Middle East tour, is the first high level member of the British government to visit Israel since former Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington was in Jerusalem in the spring of 1982. Israeli officials expressed hope that his visit foreshadowed closer relations between the two countries in the future. Luce agreed, saying such high level talks should become “routine, not extraordinary.”

SYRIA PLANS TO DOMINATE THE REGION

At his meeting yesterday with Premier Yitzhak Shamir, the latter contended that Syria’s obduracy in Lebanon did not stem from tactical considerations but was part of its far-reaching plans to dominate the region and its unswerving rejection of Israel’s right to exist.

According to Shamir, Damascus dreamed of a “Greater Syria” embracing Lebanon and Jordan. He said the presence of the multinational force in Beirut — to which Britain contributes — was vitally important but in the final analysis, the MNF would not defend Lebanon from Syrian occupation.

Luce also met with Deputy Foreign Minister Meir Ben-Yehuda and Defense Minister Moshe Arens. He said that differences had surfaced with the Israelis in the course of their talks, particularly over Israel’s settlement policy on the West Bank. But he stressed that the free and frank exchange had “not been wounding personally” because it was conducted in a spirit of friendship. The British minister leaves tonight for Jordan and Egypt.

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