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Shamir Begins Presenting Ideas; Baker Calls Them ‘encouraging’

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir began unveiling to the Bush administration Wednesday his proposals for moving the Middle East peace process forward.

Emerging from a meeting with Secretary of State James Baker, Shamir said he “proposed some new ideas,” but would not make them public until after he meets with President Bush Thursday.

“We have started a very serious discussion,” Shamir said. “We have to continue discussions until we will find appropriate solutions.”

Baker said he found Shamir’s proposals “very encouraging.” He added that these ideas “hopefully will form the basis under which we can move the peace process forward.”

The two leaders met for more than an hour alone and then were joined by their aides for a working lunch. Baker said they did not complete their discussion, since Shamir had to leave for an appointment with Defense Secretary Dick Cheney.

Shamir has kept his new ideas, which the Bush administration said it was eagerly awaiting, a closely guarded secret.

But he has indicated that the heart of his proposals is an offer to allow the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to elect their own leaders for negotiations with Israel. Those elections, however, could not be held as long as the uprising in the territories continued.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said after meeting with Baker on Tuesday that no one can stop the Palestinian intifada. “Let’s be realistic and practical. If anybody could stop it, we’d be very pleased,” he said. “But how?”

MUBARAK URGES ‘GOOD ATMOSPHERE’

But Mubarak also appeared to have been convinced by Baker to support the administration’s position that tension has to be eased in the territories in order to create a climate conducive to negotiations. The United States has asked both Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization to take tension-reducing steps.

“The most important thing is to try to create a good atmosphere by improving the situation,” Mubarak said after his State Department meeting Tuesday. “A good atmosphere will help the peace process move forward.”

After his meeting with Bush on Monday, Mubarak said that negotiations required an international peace conference this year. Both Bush and Baker said a “properly structured” conference could be useful at the appropriate time.

Administration officials have said that much ground has to be covered, starting with an easing of tension in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Shamir arrived from New York at Andrews Air Force Base on Wednesday morning and was flown by helicopter to the Washington Monument. There Baker greeted him and escorted the Israeli leader to Blair House, the government’s official guest residence.

Shamir is the first foreign guest to use the residence, located across the street from the White House, since renovations on it began six years ago.

The Israeli premier was scheduled to meet with President Bush and Vice President Dan Quayle on Thursday, and he was to be Bush’s guest at a White House dinner that night. He was to meet with members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday afternoon and with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Friday.

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