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Baker Hints U.S. Could Back International Peace Conference

The United States may shift policy and back an international conference as the best route to peace in the Middle East, if tough new conditions set by Israel’s Likud bloc prevent the Israeli peace plan from being realized.

That was the message U.S. Secretary of State James Baker conveyed to reporters traveling with him in Asia over the weekend.

According to news reports in The New York Times and other sources, Baker said the United States would have to consider organizing such a conference to break the impasse set up by the conditions Likud hard-liners succeeded in pushing through at a July 5 meeting of the party’s Central Committee.

Among other things, the conditions limit the circumstances under which proposed elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip could take place. The Palestinian uprising would have to come to a complete halt and Arab residents of East Jerusalem, where many prominent Palestinian leaders reside, would not be allowed to participate.

Baker told the reporters Saturday, “Our calculus all along has been that if things totally bog down, if you can’t make progress with this election proposal, then we would have to look a little bit more closely at the prospects for an international conference.”

Baker spoke with reporters who were traveling with him from Brunei to Oman, where he rested before leaving to join President Bush in Poland on Sunday.

The secretary’s statement was seen by some as a warning to Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who strongly opposes the concept of an international conference, because he believes it would subject Israel to undue international pressure.

The Arab nations have continued to press for an international peace conference, and they have received European support. Two weeks ago, the 12-nation European Community issued a statement calling an international conference the best framework for peace.

“There is an awful lot of support for that out there from other countries,” Baker was quoted as saying Saturday.

“We have always said that an international conference, properly structured, at the right time, might be useful,” he said.

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