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Bush Not Yet Ready to Upgrade U.S. Negotiations with the PLO

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The Bush administration is resisting pressure to upgrade talks with the Palestine Liberation Organization to the level of a meeting between Secretary of State James Baker III and Yasir Arafat.

“You crawl before you walk,” President Bush said in rejecting the possibility of such a meeting for now. He spoke at a White House news conference last Friday.

Bush supported the Reagan administration’s decision in December to begin talks with the PLO once it was satisfied that Arafat had accepted longstanding U.S. conditions for such contact. These conditions were recognition of Israel’s right to exist, acceptance of U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, and a renunciation of terrorism.

Since then, the only authorized channel for talks with the PLO has been Robert Pelletreau Jr., the U.S. ambassador to Tunisia.

“As long as they (PLO) stay hooked and stay committed to those three principles, we will have quite appropriate meetings with the PLO,” Bush said Friday. He said he had not given any thought to when a meeting with Arafat would be appropriate.

The European Community, however, has found Arafat’s recent gestures appropriate for talking to the PLO leader. The foreign ministers of France, Greece and Spain, representing the community, met with Arafat in Madrid last Friday and began pressing for an international conference on the Middle East.

Bush is expected to com under pressure from King Hussein of Jordan and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to open talks with Arafat when he sees the two Arab leaders in Tokyo, where they will be attending Emperor Hirohito’s funeral, scheduled for Feb. 24.

ARAFAT MAY NOT SEEK VISA

Arafat has indicated he will not seek a visa to come to Washington, where he has been invited to address a meeting of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in April, unless he is assured of meetings with administration officials.

This takes the administration off the hook in deciding whether or not to grant him a visa. Secretary of State George Shultz came under intense international criticism after he refused to issue Arafat a visa to address the U.N. General Assembly in New York in December.

The U.N. meeting was then shifted to Geneva, where Arafat, after several attempts, finally said the words accepted by Washington.

Bush stressed Friday that he wants to see what is accomplished in the present low-level talks with the PLO before considering any further steps.

“The point in talking to them is to try to facilitate peace in the Middle East,” he said. “And it seems to me that if there’s some logical step that requires high-level sign-off by participants over there, then and then only would it be proper to elevate the meetings to that level.”

But, he stressed, “we’re just starting.”

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