U.S. Says It Will Serve As Catalyst, but Israel Expecting More Sympathy

President Bush and Secretary of State James Baker are emphasizing that the United States will not impose a solution on Israel and the Arabs at this week’s Middle East peace conference in Madrid.

“We’re trying to be a catalyst to bring people together and let them talk about their differences,” Bush said at a White House news conference last Friday.

But Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Arens said Sunday that Israel expects the United States not to be evenhanded, but to support the Jewish state in the negotiations.

“I think that obviously there should be a situation where the United States has more sympathy for this little democracy than for some of these other dictators,” Arens said on the ABC-TV program “This Week with David Brinkley.”

Until now, though, the United States has not been helpful, Arens charged. He decried the “continuous pronouncements from Washington that the negotiations have to be based on territories for peace, that there must be an end to the occupation, that settlements are an obstacle to peace.”

Such statements are “interpreted in the Arab world as a U.S. position that all of the territories that the Arabs lost in the aggression against Israel will be retrieved and that the United States will help them retrieve them,” he said.

“That, I think, is raising expectations that will not be helpful for the negotiations that are coming up in Madrid.”

Bush refused Friday to comment on any specific issue that will come up at Madrid. “What I do not want to do is inadvertently complicate the process,” he said.

The president said that the U.S. positions on U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 are clear and known. “But we are not having a conference about U.S. policy,” he said.

Baker, who also appeared on the ABC program Sunday, said that the United States has been consistent in supporting a land-for-peace deal, calling Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip an obstacle to peace and rejecting a Palestinian state.

The United States made clear to all the parties involved that it would not change its positions in order to bring anyone to the negotiating table, Baker said.

“We have declined specific requests from almost every one of the parties to change that policy position,” he said.

PUSH FOR A SETTLEMENT FREEZE

The opening plenary of the conference, which begins Wednesday, will feature speeches by the two hosts, Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, as well as by the various Middle East participants.

The plenary will be followed by separate bilateral negotiations Israel will hold with Syria, a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation and Lebanon.

There will also be multilateral negotiations on such issues as water resources, arms control, economic development and environmental concerns.

An early obstacle could arise if the Arabs demand an immediate freeze on Jewish settlement-building in the administered territories.

Shamir said Sunday that the question of settlements can only be resolved once the questions of territory and boundaries are resolved.

The Israeli premier said that while the Arabs have agreed to attend the conference, he is not sure they are ready to make peace with Israel.

But Arens said that the negotiations with the Jordanian-Palestinian delegation have “the greatest promise of bringing some agreement in the immediate future.”

He said that is because they agreed to use the 1978 Camp David formula to discuss the conditions of Palestinian self-rule and not to discuss the discuss the final settlement on the territories until three years after autonomy is established.

Shamir said he hopes the conference will result in peace with the Arab countries or even peace with one Arab country. “I have no doubt it will come; the question is when,” he said.

At his news conference Friday, Bush called the Madrid conference “historic.”

“Sitting down together is the beginning of understanding,” he said. “We cannot know the outcome, of course. It will take patience, determination.”

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