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U.S. Urging Mideast Parties to Accept Confidence-builders

The United States is urging Israel, the Arab states and Palestinians to agree to specific “confidence-building” measures to advance their bilateral talks in the aftermath of the Madrid peace conference.

The Israeli news media said Sunday that the Americans will be pressing Israel to freeze settlement-building in the administered territories.

The Palestinians will be asked to stop the intifada as they begin face-to-face talks with the Israelis on a proposed five-year self-governing arrangement for the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The United States will call on the Arab countries to proclaim a temporary cessation of their state of war with Israel.

According to media reports, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir may feel the first direct American pressure during his nine-day visit to the United States, which he begins later this week.

He is going there to address the annual General Assembly of the Council of Jewish Federations in Baltimore on Nov. 21 and could possibly visit Washington for a meeting with President Bush.

But the Israeli Embassy in Washington says there are no plans for such a visit and no White House stop has been scheduled, at least not yet.

The Israeli Labor Party daily Davar reported Sunday that the U.S. administration is trying to arrange a public meeting between Shamir and Jordan’s King Hussein somewhere in the United States as a means of boosting the peace process.

The newspaper noted that Israeli and Jordanian officials publicly shook hands in Madrid last weekend, breaking the taboo against public contact between them.

ISRAEL REJECTS WASHINGTON SITE

At the moment, however, the Israelis and Arabs are still unable to agree on the site of their bilateral talks, which began in Madrid and are supposed to be resumed shortly.

According to informed sources, Israel has balked at an American proposal to hold the sessions in Washington.

Shamir told his Cabinet on Sunday that Israel remains convinced that the talks should be held in the Middle East, alternating between Israeli and Arab locales.

Syria wants its bilateral talks with Israel to continue in Madrid. Israel flatly rejects that on grounds that it would perpetuate the ceremonial conference mode, rather than the bilateral nature of the talks.

Nor is there any firm agreement, sources here said, where or when the multinational phase of the peace talks will convene.

The United States seems determined that the preliminary session will be held soon, if possible this month, and that high-level representatives will attend, not only from the Middle East but from economically advanced powers outside the region.

Syria is resisting saying it will not attend the regional talks until there is tangible progress in its bilateral meetings with the Israelis.

The United States is said to be pushing the Saudis to exert pressure on Damascus. But even if Syria remains recalcitrant, Washington is confident of a good turnout from the Arab world, including Jordan, Egypt, the Persian Gulf states and the Maghreb countries: Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.

Washington is also said to be encouraged by the responses of Japan and several European countries to Bush’s strong hints in Madrid that they would be asked to foot the bill for some of the regional cooperation projects that might emerge from the multilateral meetings.

The United States is hopeful that the talks will be attended by representatives of the G-7 group of leading industrialized nations. including Japan and Canada, at least on the foreign ministerial level.

Shamir is scheduled to arrive in the United States on Friday. In addition to his speech in Baltimore, his schedule calls for major addresses in Boston and Los Angeles.

He will be in Los Angeles from Nov. 15 to 18 to receive an honorary degree from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. While in Boston on Nov. 19 and 20, he will be awarded an honorary degree by Boston University.

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

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