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U.S. Says There Has Been ‘significant Progress’ Toward Peace Negotiations in the Mideast

The State Department maintained Thursday that there has been “significant progress” toward bringing about peace negotiations in the Middle East, but would not give any details.

Specifically, Department spokesman Charles Redman would not comment on reports from Israel that Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin discussed the way of bringing about an international conference during a secret meeting with King Hussein of Jordan last week.

Redman reiterated the United States position that it was seeking a comprehensive peace in the Mideast through “bilateral direct negotiations.”

He repeated that the U.S. is discussing with the parties whether an international conference, as Hussein demands, can bring about such direct talks. But he said that, as yet, “it remains unclear” whether such a conference would lead to “prompt direct negotiations.”

DECLINES TO PROVIDE DETAILS

But “clearly there has been significant progress,” Redman added. However, when pressed to describe the progress, he refused.

Premier Yitzhak Shamir, who is strongly opposed to such a conference, received a letter from President Reagan this week, urging him not to miss the “historic opportunity” to achieve peace. While Reagan did not ask Shamir to agree to an international conference, he suggested that the proposal be examined.

Shamir’s office reiterated Israel’s willingness to begin direct talks with Jordan, Egypt and Palestinian representatives based on the Camp David formula. Shamir’s position was described to Secretary of State George Shultz last week by Minister-Without-Portfolio Moshe Arens during a quick visit to Washington. Peres, who denied meeting with Hussein, continues to press for an international conference that would lead to direct negotiations.

According to reports in Israel, Hussein told a visiting American group, the American Council on Foreign Relations, that he would be willing to enter direct negotiations with Israel, following an opening ceremony by an international conference, without the Palestine Liberation Organization. Hussein stressed there would have to be Palestinian representatives.

This is something on which all sides in Israel agree. They also reject any participation by the PLO.

If real progress is achieved it could be signaled by a decision of Shultz to visit the Mideast. Redman said there were no plans at present for Shultz to go to the area. He repeated Shultz’s year-long position that he would go to the region “if such a trip can be constructive to help move the peace process forward.”

Meanwhile, the next major event in the effort will come when Peres visits Washington in mid-May.

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