No Mideast Trip for Shultz

Secretary of State George Shultz has decided not to travel to the Middle East this summer, the State Department announced Tuesday.

Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres had reportedly been pushing for a visit by the Secretary to help resolve the dispute over Taba, the small strip of territory on Israel’s southern border, and possibly to make some progress in the peace process before the scheduled turnover of the Premiership to Likud leader Yitzhak Shamir in October.

State Department legal advisor Abraham Sofaer is currently on his second visit to the region in a month, in an effort to resolve differences between Egypt and Israel over how arbitration over Taba should be conducted. “At this point the Secretary does not feel the need for a trip,” State Department spokesman Bernard Kalb told reporters.

The White House had said in May that a trip to the region by the Secretary was “in the planning stage.” But Shultz has repeatedly said he would only go if he thought something could be accomplished. There had been speculation that he would go if sufficient progress had been made by Sofaer on the Taba issue.

But a State Department official maintained that Shultz’ decision did not reflect pessimism about the prospects for success in resolving the conflict over Taba. “If Sofaer should succeed in mediating an agreement, there would be no reason for Shultz to go,” the official told the JTA.

Vice President George Bush will be visiting Israel, Egypt and Jordan at the end of July.

Asked whether the decision by Jordan’s King Hussein to close all of PLO chief Yasir Arafat’s Fatah offices in Amman provided a new opportunity for a breakthrough in the peace process, Kalb would say only that “the relationship between the PLO and Jordan is something for the parties to work out among themselves.” (Related story P.I.)

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