Britain Endorses Mideast Conference; Reportedly Involved with U.s., Syria

The British government has formally endorsed an international conference for Middle East peace with the participation of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, including the Soviet Union.

Foreign Secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe told the House of Commons Friday that convening such a conference would be one of the major foreign policy objectives of the newly re-elected Conservative government of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

He said its purpose was to bring Israel and Jordan into direct negotiations, though the conference would not have the power to impose solutions or veto agreements between the parties directly concerned. He said Britain, as a member of the Security Council, would play a full part in the effort.

Howe addressed Parliament after a visit to London last week by Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, a strong advocate of an international conference, which is vigorously opposed by Premier Yitzhak Shamir. Howe and Thatcher had lengthy discussions with Peres on the subject. The Israeli Foreign Minister stated publicly that his objective in visiting Western Europe was to solicit the support of its leaders for an international forum. He visited France and West Germany after leaving Britain.

It was confirmed here meanwhile that Thatcher has been involved in promoting secret U.S. negotiations with President Hafez Assad of Syria. Britain broke diplomatic ties with Syria last year because of its involvement in an aborted attempt to place a bomb on an El Al airliner about to leave London’s Heathrow Airport for Tel Aviv.

The United States promptly followed Britain’s action. But now President Reagan has proposed sending the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Vernon Walters, to Damascus to meet with Assad. Thatcher, it is known, helped clear the way for this contact by confirming that Syria recently has taken steps to distance itself from terrorist activities.

Thatcher’s next direct involvement in Middle East diplomacy will be her meeting with King Hussein of Jordan when he visits London shortly. She is expected to brief him on her two-hour conversation with Peres last Tuesday.

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