PARIS (Jun. 22)
Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres arrived in London Monday to begin an eight-day round of meetings with Western European leaders to consolidate their support for an international conference for Middle East peace.
Peres and his Labor Party colleagues favor such a forum as a step to direct negotiations between Israel and the Arab states. But Premier Yitzhak Shamir and Likud are fiercely opposed. Peres hopes to obtain public backing from European leaders who seem inclined to favor the plan.
During his two-day stay in London, Peres will confer with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Foreign Secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe and Tory and opposition leaders in Parliament.
He is due in Paris Wednesday for meetings with President Francois Mitterrand, Premier Jacques Chirac and Foreign Minister Jean-Bernard Raymond. Raymond visited Israel a week ago and supported the conference idea.
Peres will arrive in Bonn on June 28 to meet with Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher. He will also visit Switzerland, mainly for a rest, but he has a meeting scheduled in Bern with Foreign Minister Pierre Aubert.
Whatever support he may get for the international conference scenario, diplomatic observers expect no movement on the plan for the next six months.
One reason is that the rotating chairmanship of the European Economic Community’s (EEC) Council of Ministers will be taken over on July 1 by Denmark, which is considered the most pro-Israel of the 12 EEC member states and not likely to act unless there is a consensus in Israel.
The outgoing chairman, Foreign Minister Leo Tindemans of Belgium, has been a major advocate of an international conference. He told a meeting of the Parliament of Europe in Strasbourg a week ago that the EEC’s support for a conference was one of the major achievements of his six-month tenure.
The EEC decided last February to back a conference as the best means to achieve peace in the Middle East. “With this initiative, Europe has a voice in the Middle East for the first time since 1948,” Tindemans said. The Belgian diplomat visited leaders of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and Israel last April and May on behalf of the EEC to discuss the peace process. He has also conferred with senior American and Soviet officials.
But since then he was given no mandate to continue his exploratory mission. The EEC moreover is presently preoccupied with the situation in the Persian Gulf, the observers said.