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Levy Expected to Meet with Baker in U.S. to Clarify Israeli Position

Israel and the United States are trying to schedule a meeting in Washington on Thursday or Friday between Foreign Minister David Levy and U.S. Secretary of State James Baker.

Levy is expected to explain Israel’s position on a peace conference in the aftermath of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s recent exchange of letters with President Bush.

But Shamir made clear Monday that he is not sending the foreign minister to Washington with any “message” for the White House.

Levy, who is scheduled to leave Tuesday on a private visit to the United States, will be speaking Thursday night in New York at the 78th annual national commission meeting of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith.

In Washington, State Department spokes-woman Margaret Tutwiler said Monday that Baker and Levy would meet this week, although no date or time was announced.

The Israeli Embassy in Washington said the two sides were trying to arrange a meeting for Thursday.

Tutwiler denied that the Bush administration has given up trying to bring about a Middle East peace conference in the wake of Shamir’s rejection last week of Bush’s appeal for flexibility on procedural conditions.

The peace conference has not been “declared dead,” Tutwiler said.

In his letter to Bush last Thursday, Shamir refused to consider including a U.N. presence at the conference and rejected Bush’s proposal that it be allowed to reconvene periodically once direct, bilateral negotiations begin.

NO ANSWER YET FROM ARAB COUNTRIES

The prime minister told reporters Monday, however, that he does not consider himself to be in a “polemical argument” with the president.

He said he had only sought to “explain Israel’s position” in his letter and hoped to continue “maximal cooperation with the United States on the roads to peace.”

Tutwiler, in Washington, stressed that two principles govern the U.S. peace initiative. First, she said, “we cannot want peace in this region more than the parties themselves.”

And second, the United States is “willing to be a catalyst” and to remain involved, “provided there is something to work with.”

At the White House, spokesman Marlin Fitzwater maintained that the administration does not want to “characterize” Shamir’s letter as a rejection, because “it’s not entirely clear” what Israel’s position is.

He indicated Levy might clarify that when he comes to Washington.

He also pointed out that the United States “has not heard from other countries” in the region. In addition to writing to Shamir, Bush sent letters urging flexibility to the leaders of Jordan, Syria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

(JTA correspondent David Friedman in Washington contributed to this report.)

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