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U.S. Won’t Give Up on Peace Process, Even if Israel Rejects Baker Proposal

The Bush administration has signaled that it intends to remain engaged in the Middle East peace process, whether or not it receives the cooperation it is seeking from Israel.

President Bush indicated Friday that his administration will keep trying to bring about an Israeli-Palestinian dialogue even if Israel continues to reject the current U.S. proposal for such talks.

“We are not going to give up on that kind of solution to this problem,” Bush said in a nationally televised news conference at the White House. “We have to do that.”

But the president added that “if we get totally stiff-armed” on the U.S. proposal to bring about Israeli-Palestinian talks, “then we go back to the drawing board.”

“We are not going to sit here and do nothing,” he declared.

The president’s statement was the first indication that the United States is willing to stay involved in the Middle East peace process whether or not current proposals to advance the process bear fruit.

Previously, Secretary of State James Baker, who hammered out the U.S. proposal for Israeli-Palestinian talks in Cairo, had indicated that the United States might withdraw from an active role in the peace process if his formula does not gain acceptance from both sides.

U.S. readiness to pull out of the peace process was voiced most succinctly by Baker himself, when the secretary told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on June 13 that the parties to the conflict should call the White House “when you’re serious about peace.”

NO COMMENT ON SHAMIR RESPONSE

His comment, which was widely viewed as a slap in the face to Israel, was followed the next week by a letter from Bush asking Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir if the new Israeli government was committed to implementing his May 1989 peace plan.

The plan calls for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to elect representatives who would negotiate with Israel on limited self-rule and eventually the final status of the territories.

Shamir sent the U.S. president a lengthy response last Thursday. The letter, couched in friendly terms, expressed Israel’s continued support for its peace plan. But it rejected Baker’s proposal for Israeli-Palestinian talks on the modalities of the proposed elections in the territories.

The letter also stressed Israel’s view that the Middle East impasse is not due to the Palestinian issue, but the “refusal of the Arab states to put an end to the state of belligerency with Israel.”

Bush said Friday that he could not comment on the letter, because the analysis by the State Department and the National Security Council had just begun. He said he could not yet determine whether Shamir’s letter should be considered a negative or positive response to the U.S. query.

The State Department has also refused to give an immediate reaction to the Shamir letter. This is “too important” for the United States to “come out with some snap reaction,” department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler explained Friday.

But Bush did say Friday that he is “very concerned” about the deadlock in the peace process, and he expressed hope that the United States would “find some material in the response (from Shamir) to permit us to get these talks going again.”

“It is essential; the status quo is unacceptable to everybody,” Bush said.

The president said that Baker proposed a “sound plan” to bring about an Israeli-Palestinian dialogue, and “I want to see it go forward.”

“There has got to be discussions with Palestinians,” he said. The United States “will push and find ways to make it happen if we can.”

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