Israel Defers Action on Peace Talks Until After Rabin Visits Washington

The Inner Cabinet convened Wednesday to discuss the latest American peace proposals, but deferred policy decisions until after Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s visit to Washington next week, informed sources said.

Rabin is to meet Jan. 17 and 18 with Vice President Dan Quayle, Secretary of State James Baker and Defense Secretary Dick Cheney.

He will also meet with American Jewish leaders in New York on Friday and is scheduled to address a dinner of the American Friends of Hebrew University in Los Angeles on Sunday.

The Inner Cabinet is the government’s top policy-making body, consisting of six Likud and six Labor Party senior ministers.

Its discussion Wednesday was said to center on growing signs of American restiveness over the lack of progress toward implementing the Israeli peace initiative.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir declared that the U.S. peacemaking effort is paramount and there is “no role” now for the Soviet Union.

But Israel worries that the United States, its closest ally, may some day assert the right of the Palestine Liberation Organization to participate in the peace process.

Israel’s persistent quest for assurances on that account has contributed to the delay in setting up an Israeli-Palestinian dialogue in Cairo, to be followed by Palestinian elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

BAKER PHONES FOREIGN MINISTERS

The Israeli ministers are clearly disturbed by reports from Washington that the U.S. secretary of state is rapidly wearying of the delay.

Diplomatic sources quoted Baker as telling the visiting Norwegian foreign minister, Kjell Bondevik, on Monday that he would abandon his efforts in the Middle East if the stalemate continues.

When asked about that comment Wednesday, State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said Baker “is prepared to stay engaged as long as the parties are determined to make progress.”

She reported that Baker spoke by telephone to Egyptian Foreign Minister Esmat Abdel Meguid on Monday and to Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Arens on Wednesday. But she did not reveal the content of their discussions.

Meguid and Arens were to have met with Baker in Washington this month to arrange the Israeli-Palestinian talks in Cairo. But the meeting has been postponed, apparently because of outstanding differences on several issues, including the PLO’s role.

Tutwiler told reporters earlier this week that it would be “absurd” to hold the foreign ministers meeting unless it was guaranteed to produce the intended results.

“We hope to see the same kind of impulse that will produce change in the Middle East, and we are prepared to do all we can to promote it,” the spokeswoman said Wednesday.

“If this effort does fail, as has been speculated in some press, it certainly won’t be due to a lack of effort or will on behalf of this president or this secretary of state,” she added.

(JTA correspondent Howard Rosenberg in Washington contributed to this report.)

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