U.S. Will Accept No Conditions for Participation in Peace Talks

The Bush administration is insisting that Israel, the Palestinians and Syria accept without conditions its invitation to come to Washington next week for the next round of bilateral peace talks.

“We are not in the business at this point of the game in dealing in conditions to acceptance of a response that they knew was what they originally signed on to,” State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said Tuesday.

She said when the parties agreed to attend the peace conference in Madrid, after eight months of negotiations, they knew it would be followed by bilateral talks, in which Israel would negotiate separately with Syria, Lebanon and a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation.

Tutwiler said Washington is annoyed that both the Palestinians and Syria have expressed “a readiness to respond positively” but only with “some questions.” She said those questions could be interpreted as conditions.

Israel also has some questions, Tutwiler said, but Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir has indicated that Jerusalem’s answe would not come before the Inner Cabinet met on Wednesday, two days after the U.S. deadline for a reply.

In fact, there were indications in Israel that the response might not come until the regular Cabinet meets Sunday, just three days before the Washington talks are to begin.

Israel’s main objection is that the bilateral talks are to be held in Washington, rather than the Middle East. Jerusalem wanted the talks to alternate between Israel and an Arab site.

In New York, Dennis Ross, director of the State Department’s policy planning staff, told the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations on Tuesday that the administration issued the invitations to keep the “momentum” going after the parties could not agree on a site for the bilateral talks.

PLO ADVISERS WON’T GET VISAS

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive director of the Conference of Presidents, said Ross explained that the United States actually prefers that the talks be held in the Middle East and hopes that later rounds can move there.

But Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, and Jess Hordes, ADL’s Washington director, urged the administration, in a meeting Monday with White House and State Department officials, to announce definitely that the talks will move to the Middle East.

“The United States should restate that it understands Israel’s concerns and reasons why Washington is not an appropriate venue for talks, and should publicly undertake to ensure that the next phase of the talks is in the region or close to it,” Foxman said.

Only Jordan and Lebanon have accepted unconditionally the invitations sent late last week for the bilateral talks to be held in Washington, Tutwiler said.

She specifically rejected one demand that the Palestinians are making, that the “advisers” from the Palestine Liberation Organization who were present in Madrid be allowed to enter the United States.

She confirmed that a law banning PLO members from entering the United States contains some waivers, but they do not apply to bilateral negotiations.

Ross told the Conference of Presidents that the administration has also rejected a demand from Syria that it be removed from the U.S. list of states supporting terrorism.

Tutwiler said that “once you step down that road” of agreeing to conditions from one party, you have to begin agreeing to conditions from the other parties.

WORDING ON GOLAN TROUBLES ISRAEL

The U.S. position is supported by the co-sponsor of the peace conference, the Soviet Union, Tutwiler said. She said Secretary of State James Baker talked to Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze by telephone Tuesday, and that the Soviet leader would also be pressing the parties to attend the Washington meeting.

But neither Baker nor Shevardnadze will be at the bilateral talks, since this will be on the expert level, Tutwiler said. They are expected to participate in the broader conference on regional problems, which is expected to be held next month but which has not yet been scheduled.

Meanwhile, the wording of the invitations could result in another dispute with Israel, since the United States suggested that Syria and Israel discuss what Damascus might concede in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights.

Foxman of ADL said that while the United States has always said U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 apply to the Golan Heights, as well as the West Bank and Gaza Strip, it has never specifically called for an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan.

But Tutwiler maintained that the proposals for negotiations the administration made to each of the parties were “nothing more than the U.S. view,” which the parties could freely accept or reject.

She said there is no change in U.S. policy and that “every word of this has been discussed a number of times with the parties.”

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