WASHINGTON (Mar. 3)
While President Bush says he is determined to move quickly to bring about a resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Secretary of State James Baker has made it clear that the United States is not looking to impose a peace settlement.
Instead, Baker said that when he visits Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Syria next week, he wants to hear from the leaders of those countries how they view the next step in the peace process.
“We are not going with a specific plan,” the secretary said in an appearance Sunday on the NBC-TV program “Meet the Press.”
“We have said many times that we can be effective as a catalyst in encouraging peace in the Middle East, but only as effective as the desire of the parties to the conflict to want a solution. They’ve got to want a solution,” he said.
The United States “cannot impose a peace” in the Middle East, “notwithstanding the excellent relationship we have with Israel, notwithstanding the enhanced, perhaps, stature and standing we have with some of our Arab coalition partners,” Baker said.
At a White House news conference Friday, Bush said he believes “the time is right” to seek a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, as a result of the success of the U.S.-led campaign against Iraq.
But like Baker, he said that while the United States wants to “play a very useful” role, it does not plan to make any proposals, including an international peace conference.
“Whether it proves to be a peace conference or some bolder, new idea, time will tell,” Bush said. “But we are beginning very serious consultations on this.”
Baker said that “the worst thing we can do is arrive in the region and say this is the American plan for peace.” Such a proposal would be “shot up like a Scud missile with a couple of Patriots,” he said.
U.S. HAS DONE ISRAEL A ‘GREAT FAVOR’
While repeatedly calling the Arab-Israel conflict an “intractable problem,” Baker said that “we have got to find a way for the Arab states and Israel to make peace, and we have got to find a way for Israelis and Palestinians to begin a dialogue.”
He said he will be exploring “a two-track approach” on these issues, on “what might be possible in the aftermath of this very significant development in the region.”
Baker said he had a “gut feeling” that both the Israelis and the Arab countries want to find a solution. But he added, “That doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.”
The secretary said Israel, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait owe it to the United States to make the effort because of the elimination of Saddam Hussein as a threat.
“We have done everybody in the region a great favor, including Israel,” he said. “The biggest threat to their security has been eliminated.”
Baker repeated that the United States is “appreciative” of Israel’s restraint in responding to the Scud missile attacks on the Jewish state. He said he hoped Israel would not launch such a military response now, as some expect it to do.
The coalition forces have “seriously eroded, if not eliminated, any threat” from Iraq and will continue to make sure that the threat from weapons of mass destruction are eliminated, he said.
NO ROLE FOR THE PLO
As for the Palestine Liberation Organization, Baker and other administration officials ruled out a role in the peace process for that organization and its leader, Yasir Arafat, because of its support of Saddam Hussein.
“I think that he was seriously and substantially hurt,” Baker said of Arafat.
“The PLO made a colossally bad decision” in supporting Hussein, Brent Scowcroft, the president’s national security adviser, said Sunday in an appearance on the ABC-TV program “This Week With David Brinkley.”
Scowcroft said Baker will be discussing with the Saudis their support for an alternative Palestinian leadership to the PLO. Saudi Arabia, which, like Kuwait, was a major financial backer of the PLO, has already indicated it will look for some other Palestinian group to back.
But Saudi Arabia has also let it be known that it will no longer help Jordan, which sided with Iraq.
The Bush administration, however, continues to show a measure of sympathy for King Hussein, despite U.S. anger at his backing of Iraq.
“We understand his situation,” Baker said, referring to the large number of Palestinians in Jordan.
“We have no lasting pique with Jordan,” Bush said Friday. He said the United States has had “very pleasant relationships with Jordan,” which turned into a “certain sense of disappointment” at Jordan’s position during the Gulf crisis.
Bush said a rapprochement will take time. “I can’t say how much, but clearly we do not want to see a destabilized Jordan. I have no personal animosity toward his majesty, the king.”