New Mideast ‘dynamic’ Could Lead to Arab-israeli Talks, Says Baker

— President Bush met separately in Tokyo on Thursday with Israeli President Chaim Herzog and the heads of two Arab countries, and all agreed that there is a “new dynamic” that could lead to direct negotiations in the Arab-Israel conflict.

This was the assessment of Secretary of State James Baker, who briefed reporters after Bush met with Herzog, King Hussein of Jordan and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on the eve of the funeral of Japanese Emperor Hirohito. A transcript of the briefing was made available by the State Department here.

“I think that there’s a genuine sharing of views that it is, in fact, direct negotiations that will ultimately lead to peace, and that somehow we must find a way to get to direct negotiations,” Baker said.

But he rejected a suggestion that the current visit to the Middle East of Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze played a major role in creating the new dynamic.

“I think the dynamics were there,” Baker said. “I think that they are affected in large part by the intifada and the results that that has had on public opinion around the world.”

He said that also providing opportunities for a new approach are the U.S. talks with the Palestine Liberation Organization, the State Department’s recent human rights report, which criticized Israel for human rights violations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and “the fact that the conflict there has dragged on for as long as it has.”

Baker outlined the Bush administration’s approach to the Middle East, which was basically the same view he expressed on his recent visit to Europe.

AFFIRMS NEED FOR DIRECT TALKS

He said that while there are perhaps new opportunities, they “ought to be explored very carefully.” As he did in Europe, Baker stressed “that there ought to be an extensive amount of practical groundwork before we rush off to have a big high-visibility conference under the television lights.”

Asked directly about an international conference, Baker stressed that the United States continues to be willing to participate if it is “properly structured.” He said this means that it “must lead to direct negotiations between the parties.”

Baker said that Bush made these points to Herzog and the two Arab leaders, stressing as well that “the United States would be active in the Middle East peace process.”

Baker said that Bush did not go into specifics with Herzog, but would do so when Israeli Premier Yitzhak Shamir comes to Washington in April. Shamir is expected to lay out his own proposals for seeking negotiations.

The groundwork for this is expected to be laid when Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Arens meets with Baker in Washington on March 13.

Baker said he also would discuss the Middle East with Shevardnadze next month in Vienna, where the two will be attending the opening of the East-West conventional arms negotiations.

But he indicated that he did not as yet see any “concrete contributions” by the Soviets to the Middle East peace process, just “rhetorical exercises.”

Baker continually avoided any indication that the PLO should be included in negotiations with Israel. Instead, he said he was talking about the “Palestinian people” as a negotiating partner, as well as Jordan.

He also would not reveal whether Hussein, who withdrew from the peace process last year, said he is now willing to return. “I think the position of King Hussein is well known in terms of being interested in doing whatever he can to forward the peace process in the Middle East,” Baker said.

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