NEW YORK (Sep. 26)
The United States is continuing its fast-paced effort toward setting up a Middle East peace conference, in the hope of convening it before the end of October.
Toward that end, Secretary of State James Baker met with Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa on Thursday and was to meet later with Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk a-Sharaa.
During his meeting with Baker, Moussa demanded a freeze on Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
In a meeting here Wednesday morning with American Jewish leaders, Moussa called the settlement issue “the one great obstacle to peace,” according to Rabbi Alexander Schindler, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said Moussa spoke in “cataclysmic terms” as to the problems that could arise if no freeze were placed on the settlements.
Jewish leaders who attended the meeting said they were united in their demand that the settlement issue not be set as a precondition to peace.
Evelyn Sommer, chairman of the American Section of the World Jewish Congress and president of the Women’s International Zionist Organization, said that despite the core disagreement regarding settlements, Moussa said he felt strongly that a chance for peace exists and that negotiations should continue.
FRANK AND OPEN DISCUSSION
Those interviewed said the meeting was a friendly one in which there were frank and open discussions between Moussa and the Jewish delegation, but that there was no real progress in the key issues that have divided them.
“There was disagreement as to how much the Egyptians were, in fact, doing to bring their fellow Arab neighbors around to accepting some of the realities of peace,” Foxman said.
Baker’s meetings Thursday with the Egyptian and Syrian foreign ministers followed on the heels of his meetings Wednesday with Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy and Abdallah Nsour, Jordan’s foreign minister.
Levy and Baker devoted most of their 90-minute meeting to the particulars surrounding the upcoming peace conference. Both sides characterized the meeting as positive and substantive, indicating that progress was made in the move to get the conference under way.
“I am pleased that we have had a very serious and good conversation between us in order to advance the peace process in the area,” Levy said after the meeting.
Similarly, Baker noted that he and Levy had discussed “the importance of moving forward with the peace process,” emphasizing the need for direct negotiations between the Israelis and Arabs.
At the meeting, Levy stressed Israel’s insistence on assurances from the United States that there be no surprises in terms of the Palestinian participants in the peace conference. Levy said Baker understood Israel’s terms and assured him that there would be no such surprises.