WASHINGTON (Dec. 19)
The Reagan Administration will try over the next few weeks to get Israel and Jordan to agree on the conditions for an international conference that will lead to direct negotiations between the two countries, according to a senior administration official.
“I think that a large measure of agreement exists already on some of the main points,” the official said in briefing reporters on what he said was a year of “incremental” progress in the Middle East peace process during 1985.
“It’s now our job to try to work and fill in the gaps,” he said. But, he stressed, “we continue to view direct negotiations between the parties as the only productive way to go. An international conference is acceptable to us, but only as an event that would lead to direct negotiations between the parties.”
DENIES CHANGE IN U.S. POLICY
The official denied that this was a change in U.S. policy since the Administration had earlier rejected King Hussein’s demand for an international conference which would include the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. He said Administration spokesmen had used the words international “auspices,” “framework,” and “context” as a “signal” that the U.S. had no specific idea on how the conference should be shaped.
“Whatever promises to lead to successful direct negotiations is, obviously, our preferred choice,” he said. “We recognize that whatever is agreed upon has got to meet the political needs of the parties involved.”
(In Jerusalem meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry said it does not believe the State Department has changed its position on an international conference on the Middle East. A Foreign Ministry source told Voice of Israel Radio today that the text of the State Department’s announcement on the issue has been studied and found to contain no problematic elements inasmuch as it made convening an international forum contingent on direct negotiations.)
SOVIET ROLE RULED OUT
The official continued to rule out a Soviet role in the peace process. He said up to now the Soviets “have excluded themselves” by not having diplomatic relations with Israel and supporting elements in the Arab world opposed to the peace process.
The official maintained that both Israel and Jordan have agreed on the international conference, although Israel calls it a “forum,” and the need to have Palestinian representation as part of a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation at every step of the negotiations. He said the issue of the U.S. meeting with a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation first has been relegated to “the sidelines” as being an “unnecessary complicating factor.”
That meeting never came about because the U.S. would not approve the list of Palestinians sent to Washington by Hussein because most of the names were of members of the Palestine Liberation Organization. The official noted that the Palestinian representatives for the joint delegation is still one of the major issues to be resolved. But, he stressed, “there are a lot of serious,credible, substantial leaders in the Palestinian community, men who are very seriously interested in working out a peaceful negotiation.” He warned against getting “hung up on labels as some parties have.”
PROGRESS DESPITE BACKGROUND OF VIOLENCE
Although the Administration had talked earlier of achieving direct negotiations by the end of this year, the official said progress had been made “despite the background of violence” that had marred the year in the Mideast. He said the terrorist acts over the year “both distract you from the peace process and spur you on.”
He stressed, “The basic condition for progress is there–the commitment of both Prime Minister (Shimon) Peres and King Hussein to the goal of direct negotiations without a guaranteed outcome and to making every effort to achieve it.”
He added that “no matter how much effort this Administration extends to seeking to bring the two sides together, no matter how effective our efforts might be, it is basically the desire of the parties themselves to resolve their differences that is going to spell success or failure.”
However, the official warned that “time is not inexhaustable” and decisions must be taken “and taken soon.” But he said he was not talking about any specific dates or deadlines.
NOT WAITING FOR DEADLINES
He stressed that the U.S. was not concerned about next September when, under Israel’s unity government agreement, Peres is replaced as Premier by Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir. He noted that Peres’ participation in the peace process is on the basis of the coalition agreement. “I can’t imagine any Israeli government not pursuing an opportunity for peace,” he said.
Nor did the official see a deadline at March 1,when the Congressional resolution barring an arms sale to Jordan, unless that country begins negotiations with Israel, runs out. However, he said, Jordan needs the arms to show it has the full support of the U.S.
The official said Egypt was trying to help Jordan in the peace process. But he said right now Egypt’s “greatest contribution” can be in improving its own relations with Israel. He said there were “grounds for optimism” that the Taba controversy will be settled soon.
The official noted that Hussein is trying to involve Syria in the peace process, although Syria is not yet ready. However, he contended that Syria is not as opposed as it once was.