Despite Setback in Peres-hassan Talks, Peres is Ready to Talk with Arab Leaders

Premier Shimon Peres stressed today that he will continue to seek direct negotiations with Arab leaders despite the apparent setback inflicted by King Hassan of Morocco who publicly expressed readiness to meet with Peres for peace talks this week and then denied that he had ever extended such an offer.

Hassan, the current chairman of the Arab League who is on a three-day visit to France, told French journalists Sunday that he would like to meet the Israeli Premier for direct negotiations if Peres came up with serious proposals for a solution to the Middle East conflict. His remarks, on French television, were welcomed by Peres who said he would gladly meet Hassan anywhere, including Jerusalem.

But Hassan declared on television Monday that he had “neither directly nor indirectly” addressed an invitation to Peres. The two men reportedly met secretly in Morocco five years ago when the Likud government was in power and Peres was a member of the Labor opposition.

Peres said today he had not known in advance that Hassan would announce publicly an invitation for a dialogue and had no idea why it was abruptly withdrawn. He said he responded to the invitation after he saw Hassan deliver it on television.

The U.S. also apparently took Hassan’s remarks as an invitation to Peres. U.S. Ambassador Thomas Pickering said yesterday his government was disappointed by Hassan’s denial. “It would have been a real contribution to have such a meeting. We were very encouraged by Premier Peres’ immediate acceptance and are disappointed that it does not now seem possible,” the American envoy said in Tel Aviv.

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