Baker to Press Soviet Leaders on Mideast Role, Human Rights
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Baker to Press Soviet Leaders on Mideast Role, Human Rights

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The United States will seek to find out from the Soviet Union, during Secretary of State James Baker’s visit to Moscow this week, whether the Kremlin has any concrete proposals for advancing the Middle East peace process.

“We have not seen from the Soviets anything that is concrete,” a senior State Department official said Friday.

Instead, the Soviets talk of playing a role in the Middle East and have offered only an “outline of broad slogans,” the official told reporters during a briefing on Baker’s trip.

The secretary of state will be in Moscow on Wednesday and Thursday for meetings with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze. He is also scheduled to have a long session with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

Following the pattern set by the Reagan administration, the talks will cover arms control, human rights, bilateral issues and regional issues, under which the Middle East will be discussed. But the Bush administration has added a fifth agenda item, transnational issues, which will include such topics as the environment, drugs and terrorism.

Also following the Reagan pattern, there will be working groups on all the agenda items, which will then report to the two foreign ministers. The head of the U.S. delegation for the regional talks will be Dennis Ross, director of the State Department’s policy planning staff.

Ross, who is Baker’s key adviser on the Soviet Union and the Middle East, will go to Israel, Egypt and Jordan after his Moscow visit to brief those countries on the U.S. talks with the Soviets.


He will also seek to follow up talks on the Middle East peace process that President Bush and Baker began with the leaders of those three countries in Washington last month, according to State Department spokesman Margaret Tutwiler.

She said that while Ross may meet with Palestinians during his visit to the Middle East, he will not meet with officials of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

In a speech Thursday to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Baker confirmed that human rights will again “head the list” in the U.S. talks with the Soviets.

“We are encouraged by recent Soviet performances with respect to human rights and democratization, and we hope to see these changes become a permanent part of the Soviets legal system and political code,” he said.

The senior State Department official said Friday that the Soviets will be pressed for the fulfillment of their promise to adopt new emigration laws so that exit visas will no longer be granted or denied on the whim of officials.

He said that while in Moscow, Baker will meet with longtime refuseniks, although he did not know which ones.

There are about 625 families who have been denied exit visas for years, mainly on the grounds that a family member possesses state secrets. The Soviets have promised to define the secrecy law and set a time limit on how long a person is considered to possess such secrets.

The human rights working group, headed by Richard Schifter, assistant secretary of state for human rights and humanitarian affairs, is already in Moscow.

During discussions on the Middle East, the United States will not seek to press the Soviets for support of Israeli Premier Yitzhak Shamir’s plan for elections in the administered territories.

Instead, the United States will outline its reasons for a step-by-step approach in the Middle East and seek to learn Moscow’s ideas, the senior State Department official said.

In his speech Thursday, Baker said the Soviets will be asked to give content to their “slogan of new thinking.”

While not mentioning the Middle East directly, Baker charged that “too often Soviet military aid and diplomacy have impeded the search for solutions and have even sometimes encouraged the violence.”

Specifically, Baker called for Soviet cooperation to control the proliferation of advanced weapons, which are making regional wars more likely. He said such wars “are likely to escalate quickly, drawing us into conflicts that we should have helped to resolve in the first place.”

He said the Soviets will also be asked to join the United States in seeking rules to prevent the proliferation of ballistic missiles and chemical weapons, “rules to which the Soviets have not as yet agreed.”

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