Behind the Headlines: Moscow Summit Unlikely to Bring Agreement on Mideast Peace Process
Menu JTA Search

Behind the Headlines: Moscow Summit Unlikely to Bring Agreement on Mideast Peace Process

When Secretary of State George Shultz goes to the Middle East on June 3, after next week’s Moscow summit, there is some hope, but little expectation, that the Soviets will have moved toward support of Shultz’s peace initiative for that region.

The United States and the Soviet Union are at odds over the same issue that divides the Reagan administration and Israeli Premier Yitzhak Shamir: an international peace conference.

The Soviets want an international conference that would negotiate a settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict. This is precisely the type of conference Shamir says he fears and it is why he opposes the conference idea.

Shultz, however, envisions an international conference that would only set the stage for direct negotiations between Israel and a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation, and perhaps between Israel and Syria. The conference would not dictate terms or veto any agreement reached by the parties.

In briefing reporters Monday on the Moscow summit between President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Michael Armacost, undersecretary of state for political affairs, said that there has been intensive talks on the Middle East with the Soviets.

“There’s been a perception of some forward movement in the sense that the Soviets are now acknowledging that Israel’s security concerns have to be taken into account,” Armacost said.


But, he added, when the discussion turns to the international conference, which has been the focus of much of the talks, “the difference between us as to the nature of that conference is very deep.”

Armacost said the United States wants a conference that would be “a framework which permits the parties to negotiate directly with one another, but doesn’t allow the conference to impose its solution or veto arrangements that are worked out between the parties.”

He said that while “the Russians have an idea of a more authoritative conference . . . precisely how far they want the conference, the plenary, to go is not entirely clear.”

Armacost said that the United States would consider progress has been achieved if the Soviets moved closer to Washington’s position on the international conference.

But he stressed that it is not enough for the United States and the Soviet Union to reach an agreement, since they also need the approval of the parties directly involved.

“So the progress, if there is progress, gets registered in adjustments and positions of other parties with whom we have influence or the Soviets have influence,” Armacost said.

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, who supports Shultz on the international conference as the only way to get Jordan to negotiate with Israel, was a bit more optimistic last week about the chances to achieve progress with the Soviets.


After a 30-minute meeting at the White House with Reagan, Peres said that while he did not expect an agreement to be reached in Moscow, he said the talks could move the Soviets toward cooperation.

Peres also said that Reagan will press the Soviets to restore diplomatic relations with Israel. He said that he and other Israeli officials have met with Soviet officials on this issue, but the talks have not progressed as far as the Israelis would like.

Reagan, in an interview with foreign television correspondents last week, stressed that if the Soviets want to participate in an international conference, “they have a step they have to take, and that is to resume diplomatic relations with the State of Israel.”

Both Shultz and Peres have repeatedly made clear that restoration of diplomatic relations is the first requirement for Moscow’s participation in the Middle East peace process.

But when Gennady Gerasimov, the Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman, was asked Sunday on NBC-TV’s “Meet the Press” program whether Moscow was ready to take this step, his reply was enigmatic. “We are saying that it’s quite possible in the context of Middle East settlement,” Gerasimov said.