WASHINGTON (Jul. 31)
President Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev plan to invite Israel, the Arab states and Palestinians to a peace conference in October to “launch bilateral and multilateral negotiations.”
In making the announcement in Moscow on Wednesday, Bush said that Secretary of State James Baker would go to Israel on Thursday “to obtain Israel’s answers” on whether it would attend such a conference.
Bush announced plans to hold the conference, which will convene at a still-to-be-named site, during a joint press conference with Gorbachev ending their two-day summit meeting. He said invitations to attend the conference will be issued 10 days prior to its start.
Asked directly if he believes Israel will agree to attend a conference, Bush repled, “I am a little more optimistic today, but if I had the answer in my pocket I suspect we would say so.”
While Israel appears to be leaning toward acceptance, the government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir is adamant that the Palestinian delegation to the conference not include members of the Palestine Liberation Organization or any resident of East Jerusalem.
But the Palestinians have also not yet agreed to attend the conference and are demanding that a representative from East Jerusalem be in their delegation, which is expected to be a joint delegation with Jordan.
While Bush mentioned only Israel as having yet agreed to attend the conference, it is expected that Baker will also try to meet with Palestinians while in Israel.
Although Israel has indicated approval of the Soviet Union as a co-sponsor of the conference, Jerusalem has made it clear that it would like Moscow first to resume the diplomatic relations the Kremlin broke during the 1967 Six-Day War.
The Associated Press quoted Soviet Foreign Minister Alexander Bessmertnykh as saying he would make his own trip to Israel later carrying the documents to establish full diplomatic relations with Jerusalem.
The Soviets have said they would resume such relations once Israel has agreed to attend a peace conference.
There had been some speculation that Bush and Gorbachev would issue invitations for the conference during their summit. Administration officials had expressed the hope that Israel would announce its acceptance of the conference before the summit began.
But when this did not occur, Bush and Gorbachev apparently decided to announce plans for an October summit without any specific date.
Both Bush and Gorbachev stressed the importance of moving now to obtain peace in the Middle East.
Gorbachev said that the Middle East “is at a decisive stage” and there is a “window of opportunity to really achieve progress.”
Bush said that he and Gorbachev “share the strong conviction that this historic opportunity must not be lost.”
“While recognizing that peace cannot be imposed, it could only result from direct negotiations between the parties, the United States and the Soviet Union pledge to do their utmost to promote and sustain the peacemaking process,” Bush said. He said this is why the United States and the Soviet Union, “acting as cosponsors,” are working to launch a conference.
Bush’s mention of “multilateral” negotiations may raise some eyebrows in Jerusalem.
Israeli officials have stressed that they have been assured by Baker that the conference would only be a ceremonial opening, which would be followed immediately by direct negotiations between Israel and Syria, Israel and Lebanon and Israel and the Jordanian-Palestinian delegation.
The Syrians, on the other hand, want the conference to be ongoing.
Syrian President Hafez Assad said in an interview with the Washington Post and Newsweek that while Syria will negotiate with Israel on the Golan Heights, the final settlement must be comprehensive and not an Israeli settlement with only one party, such as the Camp David agreements with Egypt.