U.S. in No Hurry to Set Date for Foreign Ministers Meeting

When it comes to the promised meeting between Secretary of State James Baker and the Israeli and Egyptian foreign ministers, the United States seems as a reluctant to set a date as a suitor with second thoughts.

“The meeting is still planned,” Richard Boucher, the State Department’s deputy spokesman, assured reporters Friday. “When we have a date, we will announce the date.”

“The important thing,” he said, “is to make progress on the issues.”

The last point in Baker’s five-point proposal for Israeli-Palestinian talks was that “within two weeks” of acceptance of the plan by Israel and Egypt, the secretary would host a meeting in Washington with Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Arens and his Egyptian counterpart, Esmat Abdel Meguid.

These talks would presumably set the agenda for the Israeli-Palestinian talks to be held in Cairo, as well as agreement on the makeup of the Palestinian delegation.

Egypt accepted the five points Dec. 6, a month after Israel’s Inner Cabinet agreed to it.

But the State Department said at the time that the Washington meeting could not be held within two weeks, because Baker was going to Europe and because of the holidays. The department said it would be held early in the new year.

The assumption was this meant January. But Boucher told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency last week, “We never said it would be in January.”

Yet at the State Department briefing Friday, he refused to confirm that the meeting would not take place until February.

NO DISCUSSION OF ASSURANCES

Boucher also would not discuss any of the issues on which the United States is seeking to make progress.

Israel’s acceptance of the five points included a request for several assurances. One was that the Israeli-Palestinians talks would deal only with setting up the elections Israel has proposed for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Others were that the Palestine Liberation Organization would not participate in the negotiations and that Palestinians in East Jerusalem could not vote in the elections.

Baker’s proposal includes a statement that “the United States understands that Israel will attend the dialogue only after a satisfactory list of Palestinians has been worked out.”

Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir has promised that once Palestinian autonomy in the territories is in place and has been tested, negotiations will begin on the final status of the territories.

But Egypt and the Palestinians are demanding that the final status also be discussed during the Cairo meeting. The Baker proposal is not clear on this. It states that the “Palestinians would be free to raise issues that relate to their opinions on how to make elections and the negotiating process succeed.”

When Shamir visited Washington last fall, he reported that he did not receive any of the requested assurances during his meetings with Baker and President Bush. Neither did Israeli Cabinet Secretary Elyakim Rubinstein when he came to Washington in December.

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