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Murphy Mideast Diplomacy Trip to Include Israel, Syria

Richard Murphy, U.S. assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern and South Asian affairs, will travel to the Middle East in the next few days to confer with leaders on the latest U.S. peace initiative for the Middle East.

He will visit Israel, Saudi Arabia and Syria, despite State Department sanctions against high-ranking U.S. officials engaging in contacts with the Syrian government.

The State Department imposed the sanctions in November 1986, when the United States withdrew its ambassador to Syria due to Syria’s complicity in international terrorist incidents. For the same reason, the United States and Libya no longer exchange ambassadors.

Murphy is not the first U.S. official to bypass the sanctions. A State Department source explained that the sanctions “issue flares up from time to time, particularly this summer when (U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Vernon) Walters visited Syria” during his trip to the region.

Another source at the department noted that Murphy broke the ban in 1987 as well. The source explained that “it’s not a rule or regulation that can’t be broken,” invoking department spokesman Charles Redman’s statement Wednesday that the United States must contact “some of the other key players” in the region.

Redman, during his news briefing Wednesday, noted the extensive contacts last week between U.S. officials and Egypt, Israel and Jordan.

The United States has offered few details of its peace initiative. Redman reiterated on Wednesday one aspect of the U.S. peace initiative: “early face-to-face negotiations” between Israel and Arab representatives.

Other aspects of the plan, including a call for autonomy measures to be instituted quickly for Palestinians in Israel’s administered territories, have received no official comment by U.S. officials.

In other planned diplomatic efforts involving the Middle East, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Michael Armacost is to visit Israel next week for routine semi-annual talks with Yossi Beilin, director general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry.

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, is scheduled to meet U.S. officials here Feb. 9. That meeting is to be part of a series of talks with the five members of the U.N. Security Council on the Iran-Iraq war.

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