Baker Reviewing Arens Suggestions, but Wants to Keep His Plan Intact

Secretary of State James Baker on Wednesday ruled out making any changes in his five-point proposal for Israeli-Palestinian talks, in response to Israeli concerns, because it might trigger similar demands for modifications by Egypt.

But Baker said he would nevertheless review “the suggested changes” he received Monday night in a letter from Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Arens.

In the letter, Arens said Israel accepts “in principle” Baker’s proposals for Israeli-Palestinian talks in Cairo, with two reservations.

These reservations, as outlined by Ruth Yaron, the spokeswoman for the Israeli Embassy here, are that Israel would not be asked to talk to the Palestine Liberation Organization and that the Cairo meeting would be confined to negotiations on implementing Israel’s proposal for Palestinian elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Baker, responding to questions during a White House news conference, said his five points are “reasonable” and were “designed, in fact, to implement the Israeli government’s own proposals for elections” in the territories.

“But if we start making changes for one side, we will find ourselves in an extended negotiating session in terms of making changes that might be requested, for instance, by Egypt,” he warned.

“It would be much better if both sides would accept the five points as a general frame-work for moving forward,” he continued. “And then let’s get on with the nitty-gritty business of sitting down face to face and determining the rules that would govern the Palestinian elections in the territories.”

PEACE EFFORT ‘HAS LIFE’

The secretary indicated that he sees the Arens letter as a positive sign, following a week in which the State Department and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir had hurled accusations at each other.

“Over the last week or so, many people have wanted to basically write this effort off, they wanted to declare it dead,” Baker said. “I think the events of the last two or three days at least indicate that the effort has life.”

At the same, the State Department has made it clear that it does not consider Arens’ letter an acceptance of the Baker proposals, since it includes reservations.

Baker spoke with Egyptian Foreign Minister Esmat Abdel Meguid by telephone Tuesday and presumably discussed the Arens letter, a State Department official said Wednesday.

But the official indicated no details of the conversation were known within the department bureaucracy, since Baker has been conducting negotiations personally by telephone with Arens and Meguid for the last several weeks.

“I don’t think we can say it is a probability that we will be able to put a dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians together,” Baker said Wednesday. “I do think it may be a possibility.”

NEXT STORY