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U.S. Will Not Pressure Israel on Egyptian Plan, Says Baker

The United States does not consider Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s 10-point plan an alternative to the Israeli peace initiative and therefore will not pressure Israel to accept it, a top State Department official said Wednesday.

Dennis Ross, director of the department’s policy-planning staff, made that assertion during a briefing for reporters after Secretary of State James Baker met here with Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Arens.

“Mr. Baker made it clear that our view of the Egyptian 10 points is that they are not a proposal, that they are not a plan, they are not an alternative to the government of Israel’s election initiative,” Ross said.

At the same time, Ross said the Bush administration is anxious to get the peace process moving. “We want to see a dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians begin,” he said.

Preliminary negotiations between Israel and a Palestinian delegation are a key element of the Mubarak plan.

Arens and his Likud bloc have rejected the plan, in part because they believe no negotiations should take place until the Palestinians elect representatives in a referendum in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The Labor Party has welcomed the Egyptian ideas as a legitimate starting point for talks.

Ross conveyed the impression that the United States would reserve judgment on the Egyptian ideas until after the Israeli Cabinet debates them at a meeting, now scheduled for next Wednesday.

MUBARAK TO MEET ARENS, PERES

According to Ross, Arens was “reluctant to offer judgment on specific points” in his discussion with Baker. He said that Arens was “noncommittal” because the Israeli government’s position is not yet solidified.

“At the Cabinet meeting, the issue will be discussed, and maybe a decision will be made,” Arens told reporters.

In Washington, the head of the Labor Party, Vice Premier Shimon Peres, said Wednesday that the differences between Labor and Likud over the 10-point plan would not cause the coalition government to collapse.

But he warned that the government will only survive if it is able to make a firm decision on the Egyptian proposal.

Arens and Baker met for over an hour in Baker’s suite at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. The meeting was private, at Aren’s request.

Arens emerged from the meeting saying he was confident the Americans view the Israeli peace plan as “the only initiative on the table.”

“We didn’t discuss any new formulas,” he said, adding that the Israeli plan has “the full support of the American government.”

Arens is to join Baker in a three-way meeting Thursday afternoon with Egyptian Foreign Minister Esmat Abdel Meguid. Also Thursday, Mubarak will meet separately with Arens and Peres.

(JTA correspondent David Friedman in Washington contributed to this report.)

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