WASHINGTON (Jul. 22)
The Reagan Administration Tuesday called the talks under way in Morocco between King Hassan II and Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres “an historic opportunity” and urged “all governments” to support the new dialogue.
“We applaud this courageous initiative by these two leaders — one which the U.S. strongly supports,” said a statement read by State Department spokesman Pete Martinez. “Our consistent position has been that direct dialogue holds out the best prospects of progress toward a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.”
At the same time, the White House criticized the reaction of Syria, which has broken off its diplomatic relations with Morocco, as “a negative step which flies in the face of the changing political environment in the Middle East.”
But Administration spokesmen maintained that while the U.S. had been told of the talks in advance there was no direct American role in preparing the groundwork for the first publicized meeting between Israel and an Arab head of state since the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat visited Jerusalem in November 1977.
“The U.S. was aware of this meeting, but we regard it as a Moroccan-Israeli initiative which we strongly welcome,” White House spokesman Larry Speakes said in a statement. He said the Peres-Hassan meeting “symbolizes the change that has occurred in the Middle East and creates a context which can enhance the peace process.”
The Morocco talks come in the wake of a recent Jordanian move to expel officials of the Palestine Liberation Organization loyal to Yasir Arafat — a move that has been viewed as a possible prelude to a major new peace initiative by Jordan’s King Hussein.
Administration spokesmen would not say how far in advance they were aware that the talks would take place or whether this week’s meeting was behind the King’s cancellation of a visit to the U.S. that had been scheduled to begin Tuesday. However, State Department officials reportedly acknowledged that this was the reason given when Hassan backed out of the trip last week.
But the State Department continued to characterize discussions held last week in Amman by American Ambassador to Israel Thomas Pickering as “personal consultations,” unrelated to the current talks in Morocco. Meanwhile, the White House said Vice President George Bush had not changed the itinerary for his trip to the Middle East where he will travel next week. Bush is scheduled to visit Egypt, Israel and Jordan.