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Baker Rejects Calls for U.S. to Speed Mideast Peace Process

Secretary of State James Baker rejected European suggestions, during his recent visit to 15 NATO countries, that the United States move quickly to achieve a Middle East peace settlement.

“If you had to balance risks here, the risk would be greater in taking precipitous action than it would in waiting a while,” Baker said Sunday in an appearance on NBC-TV’s “Meet the Press” news program.

He said the situation requires analysis and “working on the ground carefully, tilling the ground and making sure that when you do go in there, you have some reasonable prospect of success.”

During Baker’s visit to The Hague last Thursday, Dutch Foreign Minister Hans van den Brock urged the secretary of state to undertake a Middle East peace mission as soon as possible.

The Dutch official said that the foreign ministers of Spain, Greece and France believed there were good prospects for a negotiating breakthrough. The three had just concluded a fact-finding mission to the Middle East on behalf of the European Community.

Baker said Sunday that he told the Europeans, “Look, we understand the importance of the United States involvement if we are ever to achieve peace in the Middle East.

“We understand that. But we’re not sure that the process is best served by a big, high-level, high-visibility international conference begun too early.”

After the meeting in The Hague, a senior American official accompanying Baker told reporters “there is a need for us to sit down and work with the Israelis and others in the area” to “see what the traffic will bear.”

Meanwhile, Baker is scheduled to accompany President Bush to Tokyo later this week for the funeral of Japanese Emperor Hirohito. Bush is scheduled to meet there with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and King Hussein of Jordan.

It is not known if Bush or Baker will meet with any Israeli officials in Tokyo. Baker is scheduled to meet with Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Arens in Washington on March 13.

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