WASHINGTON (Aug. 19)
The Reagan Administration is once again considering whether to send Secretary of State George Shultz to the Middle East to follow up on what it consider “positive developments” on the peace process. But State Department deputy spokesman Charles Redman maintained Tuesday there are no plans yet for Shultz to go to the region. He said the Secretary’s position is the same as he stated in a television interview June I-that he would go to the region “if there is something worthwhile that has at least some chance of being accomplished.”
Despite persistent rumors of a Shultz visit to the Mideast for the past six months, he has not been in the region since 1982 when he brokered the Israeli-Lebanese agreement, which later collapsed.
The latest speculation is due to reports from Santa Barbara, California, where President Reagan is vacationing, that Shultz and National Security Adviser John Poindexter and their staffs are reviewing the next step for the United States in the Mideast peace process.
CONSTANTLY REVIEWING ‘OPTIONS’
But Redman noted Tuesday that the Administration is constantly reviewing the “options” in the area. He said there have been two recent positive developments: Israeli Premier Shimon Peres’ meeting with King Hassan II of Morocco; and Vice President George Bush’s 10-day trip to Israel, Jordan and Egypt.
It is apparent from what Bush and others have said since the Vice President’s return that the Administration is concentrating now on improving Egyptian Israeli relations.
If the agreement on arbitrating the dispute over Taba is signed by Egypt and Israel in the next few weeks as everyone expects, then not only will Egypt return its Ambassador to Israel, but overall relations between the two countries are expected to improve. This may be capped by a summit meeting between Peres and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
A SPARK THAT COULD IGNITE PEACE PROCESS
The Administration believes that improved relations between Egypt and Israel could be the spark that ignites the peace process. This might be the “something constructive” that Shultz is waiting for in order to go to the Mideast. The Administration is also undoubtedly considering any effects that improved relations between Israel and the Soviet Union will have on the peace process.
King Hussein of Jordan still wants an “international umbrella” for any talks with Israel which would include the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. The U.S. and Israel have agreed to some kind of international forum if it is not a substitute for direct talks between Israel and a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation.
However, both the U.S. and Israel have said that the USSR cannot be part of the peace process as long as it does not have diplomatic relations with Israel. The U.S. has also demanded increased emigration for Soviet Jews, as well as other conditions, that would demonstrate Soviet willingness to play a constructive role in the Mideast. At the same time, the U.S. has said it will agree to any forum for negotiations acceptable to Israel and Jordan.
Redman had no assessment of the 90-minute meeting in Helsinki Monday between Israel and the Soviet Union, the first official meeting since Moscow broke relations in 1967. But he said, “the fact that the meeting was held was in our view positive.”