Murphy to Visit Syria During His Visit to the Middle East

Richard Murphy, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, will be going to Syria when he leaves for a visit to the Middle East “very shortly,” the State Department announced today. Department deputy spokesman Edward Djerejian would not give either the date or itinerary of Murphy’s trip in announcing that Murphy would visit Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Syria “among others.” He explained that no specific advance information is given because of security reasons.

Djerejian described the purpose of Murphy’s visit as “to explore with the parties means of maintaining the recent momentum in the search for peace. As we have noted there has been movement in recent months which we regard as positive and upon which we want to build.”

The addition of Syria to Murphy’s long expected trip comes after Djerejian made a public statement on March 29 that Murphy “would welcome another opportunity” to discuss Mideast issues with Syria.

“While there are obvious differences between our position on the peace process and that held by Syria, the United States is committed to supporting movement toward peace between Israel and all its Arab neighbors,” Djerejian said at the time.

Syria has been opposed to the efforts to get King Hussein of Jordan and Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasir Arafat to agree on a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation for direct negotiations with Israel.

According to reports today from Tunis, a communique issued there by the Revolutionary Council of El Fatah, the military arm of the PLO, said it endorsed the accord between Arafat and Hussein and stressed that the “participation of the PLO” must be “on an equal footing” at an international peace conference under United Nations auspices. The Council’s endorsement of the February 11 “joint action formula” was reportedly final. The reports also said that Arafat left today for Amman to hold talks with Jordanian leaders.

BASIS FOR MURPHY’S TRIP

The decision to send Murphy to the Middle East came after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s visit in Washington in early March in which he urged more direct involvement by the United States in the Mideast peace process. The Arabs reportedly would prefer that either Secretary of State George Shultz or National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane, rather than Murphy, make such a visit.

Djerejian seemed to indicate today that no such visit was in the works although there have been reports that Shultz, who is scheduled to go to Israel on May 10, may also visit Jordan and Egypt. “He’s going to Israel on May 10 to participate in the Holocaust commemoration, period,” Djerejian reiterated.

However, it was announced today that Shultz will meet with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko in Vienna on May 14, so presumably he will have time to go to some Arab countries if he so wishes.

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