WASHINGTON (Dec. 20)
A senior State Department official said today that the evacuation from Tripoli of Yasir Arafat and some 4,000 of his loyalist Palestine Liberation Organization force, would be “meaningless” if it did not lead to bringing King Hussein of Jordan into the peace talks.
The official, answering questions in a year-end review of the Middle East at the Foreign Press Center here, said the U.S. “hopes that a way could be found” in talks between Hussein and Arafat to allow the King to enter the negotiations with “credible Palestinian support.”
“It came very close to an understanding in April,” the official said, “and it was a source of great disappointment to us and to many others ” inside and out- side the region that the talks failed when Arafat could not get the backing of the PLO executive committee.
There was no mention by the official that one of the reasons given by the Syrian-backed group of PLO dissidents who forced Arafat out of Lebanon for their opposition to him was that he had talked to Hussein about participating in negotiations with Israel.
A NEW DIMENSION ADDED
The official noted that the PLO evacuation today aboard Greek ships flying United Nations flags, was good in itself because it was hoped that it will mean the end to six weeks of bloodshed among Lebanese, Palestinians and Syrians in the Tripoli area. “But it will be a kind of meaningless affair if it doesn’t lead to some political efforts to get into the peace process, ” he added. “I think there is a possibility it can. We certainly will work toward that end,” the official said.
Those remarks seemed to add a new dimension to the U.S. demands over the last two weeks that Israel not impede the PLO’s departure from Tripoli. The U.S. publicly said that the departure would end the killing of innocent civilians in Tripoli and could also be seen in the context of the U.S. goal to have all foreign forces leave Lebanon.
The State Department official said that the U.S. continues to believe that President Reagan’s Middle East initiative is the best way to move ahead toward peace in the area and noted that nothing has been offered since the President made his proposals on September 1, 1982 that offers a more “practical program for moving all the parties ahead.” He said the autonomy negotiations between Israel, Egypt and the U.S. have gone as far as they can and now need another Arab partner.
The U.S. position in the Middle East is still aimed at achieving a “just and comprehensive peace” which will provide for the “legitimate rights of the Palestinian people as well as Israel’s right to exist behind secure and defined borders,” the official said.
He denied that the U.S. has not been concentrating on the peace process because of the situation in Lebanon. But he noted that Lebanon is so volatile that it is necessary to “lower the temperature” there before progress can be made toward a comprehensive Middle East peace.
CAN’T WALK AWAY FROM THE PROBLEMS
The official rejected the view that the Reagan Administration will not be able to move ahead in the Middle East during 1984 because of the Presidential election campaign. “You can’t just walk away from the problems, be it in Lebanon or the general Middle East situation, “he said. He maintained that he has seen no concern in the White House that seeking peace in the Middle East is “risky politics.”
On the cool Egyptian-Israeli relations, the official stressed that the U.S. was concerned about the “various misunderstandings” on both sides over implementation of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. He said that in talks with both Israeli and Egyptian leaders, the U.S. did not seek to put pressure on either side but “encouraged both to talk out their differences.”