Senior U.S. Team Going to Israel to Clarify Stance on Peace Plan

The Bush administration plans to send some of the State Department’s top guns to Israel next week in the hope of resuscitating the deteriorating prospects for Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s peace initiative.

Reports from Israel said the U.S. delegation would be headed by Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger and would include Dennis Ross, director of the State Department’s policy-planning staff, and John Kelly, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern and South Asian affairs.

But State Department deputy spokesman Richard Boucher said Monday that, while Eagleburger may head the U.S. delegation, there has been no final decision yet.

Secretary of State James Baker, at a news conference Monday in Warsaw, also said he is sending “someone” to Israel to clarify Israel’s position on the proposed Palestinian elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Baker said that Shamir’s decision, under pressure from his Likud bloc, to put tough new conditions on the elections plan “give rise in our minds to the question about the seriousness of purpose” of the Israeli government.

Clarification is needed “if we are to continue to support” the plan, he said.

The United States has been trying to sell the Israeli proposal to the Palestinians. But it has indicated that this will be an impossible task if Shamir seeks to impose the conditions he accepted at a July 5 Likud Central Committee meeting.

They are that Israel will never give up any territory, that Jewish settlement in the territories will continue, that Arab residents of East Jerusalem will not be allowed to participate in the elections and that the elections cannot be held until the uprising stops completely.

NO COMMENT ON ARAFAT REMARKS

Baker told reporters Saturday that if the elections proposal bogs down, “then we would have to look a little more closely at the prospects for an international conference.”

The new conditions are also opposed by Israel’s Labor Party, whose leaders voted Monday to recommend that the party withdraw from the government coalition with Likud.

The United States does not “get involved in Israeli politics,” Boucher said when asked about the Labor move.

But the U.S. delegation is expected to press Shamir to restate his original peace proposal, in the hope that might prevent a Labor walkout.

Boucher said he had no comment about statements Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasir Arafat made in an interview with The New York Times, published Monday.

Arafat was quoted as saying “the Likud decision means a deadly blow to elections, no matter what the cosmetic fixes they try to put on it now.”

While Israel refuses any role for the PLO in negotiations, the United States has been trying in its dialogue with PLO representatives in Tunis to get the organization to back the elections plan.

The Times story said that Arafat repeatedly said that the United States had failed to fulfill its part of a secret agreement with the PLO. Boucher said he did not know what Arafat was talking about.

Arafat indicated that he might end the dialogue with the United States, unless more substantive matters were discussed. Boucher said that the United States engaged in the dialogue in order to advance the peace process.

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