Conference on Regional Issues Called for Next Month in Moscow

The United States and Soviet Union have invited foreign ministers from Middle East nations and “other interested parties” to come to Moscow next month for multilateral negotiations on regional issues.

State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said Tuesday that the two host countries are hoping for “the widest possible participation” at the talks, which are scheduled for Jan. 28-29.

The multilateral talks are the third stage of the peace process that began in Madrid on Oct. 3. The second stage, bilateral talks, which also began in Madrid, was scheduled to resume in Washington on Wednesday, although Israel has said it will not participate until next Monday.

Nevertheless, Tutwiler said that three separate sites in a complex of government buildings will open at 10 a.m. Wednesday for Israeli negotiations with Syria, Lebanon and a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation.

She said the sites will remain open as long as the parties want to use them.

Israel had requested separate sites for the three sets of negotiations, so as not to give the impression that they were part of a single international peace conference.

The multilateral talks were originally envisioned as having the parties to the bilateral talks meet to discuss common problems, such as water, arms control, the environment and refugee resettlement.

But the Bush administration has sought to expand the participation — both in the region, to include the Persian Gulf states and the Arab North African countries, and outside, to include the European Community, Japan and Canada.

Although Israel has expressed concern about the expansion of the talks, the United States is seeking the wide participation because it hopes that other countries will share the financial burden that may result if agreements are reached.

Syria had announced earlier that it would not attend the multilateral conference until Israel agreed to withdraw from the Golan Heights. But Syria failed to convince other Arab countries to join its rejection.

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