WASHINGTON (Mar. 21)
The White House announced the dates Tuesday for President Bush’s meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and the two Arab leaders most involved in the Middle East peace process.
White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said that Bush would meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on April 3 and with Shamir on April 6. King Hussein of Jordan will see the president on May 2.
The Bush administration has taken a go-slow approach to formulating a Middle East policy, contending that it first wants to hear the views of the parties in the region.
Shamir plans to bring his own proposals to Washington, which are said to call for a period of autonomy for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip before negotiations are held on the final status of the territories.
The Bush administration appears open to this proposal, although it would like to see both Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization begin to case tensions in the territories to create a climate for negotiations.
Presumably, this will be one of the subjects raised by Robert Pelletreau Jr., the U.S. ambassador to Tunisia, when he meets with PLO officials on Wednesday.
Pelletreau may also try to convince the PLO to allow the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to negotiate with Israel, rather than to continue to insist that only the PLO can negotiate the future of the Palestinians.
At the same time, Secretary of State James Baker has suggested that if negotiations cannot be initiated without PLO participation, then the PLO may have to be brought into the process.
Shamir is expected to restate Israel’s opposition to negotiations with the PLO and reiterate that Israel will negotiate only with residents of the territories.
But both Mubarak and Hussein are expected to press the need for PLO participation. They are also expected to support the PLO’s insistence on an international conference. Up till now, the Bush administration has been cool to the idea of such a conference.