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Thatcher Appears to Urge U.S. to Pressure Israel on PLO Talks

London Jewish Chronicle

The British government has denied news reports that Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is suggesting that the United States should pressure Israel to talk with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

“We believe pressure would be counterproductive,” a Whitehall official remarked, commenting on statements made by Thatcher during her visit to Morocco this week.

Praising Morocco’s King Hassan II for having met in 1986 with then Prime Minister Shimon Peres, Thatcher was quoted as saying, “This is an example from which Israel can learn.”

It is time, she added, for well-prepared negotiations to begin. This requires the “influence and resolve” of the United States with Israel, and support from Britain.

Thatcher stressed that direct involvement of Palestinians from “inside and outside” the administered territories is necessary.

British aides accompanying the prime minister made it clear to reporters that she meant by this the PLO, and that she was determined to deliver this message to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir in advance of his visit to Washington.

In Jerusalem, Israeli officials declined to comment publicly on her remarks. Some pointed out privately, however, that the British leader had still stopped short of actually referring to the PLO by name – and that this should be seen as a gesture of accommodation toward Israeli sensitivities.

British officials, nevertheless, say privately that they hope the United States will try to convince the Israelis of the necessity of talking to the PLO.

They also hope that the United States will accept the British view that an international conference is essential if the Middle East deadlock is to be broken. The United States supports Israel’s position that direct negotiations among individual parties to the dispute are preferable.

Still, there is hope among officials here that Shamir will come up with some novel ideas during his visit to Washington next week.

The British announced Tuesday that Shamir would pay a short visit to London in May. The announcement of the previously anticipated trip was seen by some observers as a compensating gesture for Thatcher’s statements in Morocco.

(JTA Jerusalem correspondent David Landau contributed to this report.)

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