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U.S. to Continue to ‘Explore’ Feasibility of Mideast Conference

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The Reagan Administration has made it clear that it will continue to "explore" the feasibility of an international conference on Middle East peace despite the deadlock in Israel’s national unity government over the issue.

"The President and I are not committed to an international conference and we are not asking others to commit themselves," Secretary of State George Shultz told the some 1,200 persons attending the 28th annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) at the Washington Hilton Hotel Sunday night.

But, Shultz stressed that the United States believes that a "real opportunity" exists for making progress and "it is important to explore all possible approaches" including an international conference that would lead promptly to direct face-to-face negotiations.

Such a conference should be looked at "carefully, cautiously, skeptically," he said. "But look it over."

U.S. WON’T INTERFERE IN ISRAELI POLITICS

Shultz took pains to emphasize that the U.S. was "careful not to intervene in domestic Israeli politics," a reference to the current split in which Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and his Labor Party was pressing for such a conference to the vehement opposition of Premier Yitzhak Shamir and Likud.

"I have the highest regard for and the closest relationships with both Premier Shamir and Foreign Minister Peres and for that matter, with many other Israeli leaders," Shultz said. He added that "all of them are dedicated to peace" and that "all across the spectrum of Israeli politics there is a desire to have direct talks."

Shultz spoke to AIPAC after meetings with Peres in New York on Saturday and in Washington on Sunday.

Peres, in a speech to AIPAC earlier on Sunday, as well as in his other public remarks over the weekend, asserted that he had not come to the U.S. to seek support for his position but to explain it.

"I didn’t ask for any statement by Mr. Shultz aimed at Israel," Peres said on NBC-TV’s "Meet the Press" Sunday. "I think the United States has clarified its position and I hope they won’t rotate from it."

Shultz told AIPAC he believes King Hussein of Jordan "is sincere in his readiness to pursue a negotiated settlement" through direct negotiations with Israel. He said that Hussein also agrees that the international conference, which the king has demanded, "will not impose any solution or veto any agreement made by the negotiating parties."

The Secretary stressed that Palestinians must participate in the negotiations, but "only in a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation." He ruled out any part for the Palestine Liberation Organization in peace talks.

Shultz said the U.S. believes that the way to achieve peace is by "sitting down with people who want to make peace and who are qualified and ready to negotiate."

He then asked whether the PLO was qualified and replied to his own question, "hell, no." He then said to the loudly applauding audience, "PLO," and they shouted back at him, "no."

SAYS SOVIETS ARE NOT QUALIFIED

Repeating his question, he asked about the Soviet Union. He said they "could be" but are not now entitled to participate. "They encourage the PLO to turn even more radical and violent," he said. "They ally themselves with the worst terrorists and tyrants in the region."

In addition, Shultz pointed to the Soviet Union’s treatment of Jews and its refusal to increase emigration, as well as its lack of diplomatic relations with Israel, as reasons for it not being qualified to participate in Mideast peace negotiations.

Shultz said that if there are negotiations the U.S. position will be based on President Reagan’s Sept. 1, 1982 Mideast peace initiative which he stressed is an "initiative not a plan." He said all parties will be free to put their own proposals on the table without any preconditions, as well as walk away if the conditions for the talks are not met.

Asked why the U.S. embassy is not moved to Jerusalem, Shultz replied that while the U.S. believes Jerusalem should remain united, it also believes that all territories captured by Israel in 1967 should be open for negotiations.

The Secretary stressed several times that relations between Israel and the U.S. are closer than ever and that both the Administration and Congress are committed to strengthening it even further.

"I feel that one of the warmest and best things that have happened to me in this job is the expansion of my already wide list of Jewish friends," Shultz said after it was noted he is the first person to have been asked and accepted to address the AIPAC policy meeting for a second time. He first spoke to AIPAC in 1985.

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