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U.S. Planning to Invite Parties to Round of Peace Talks in April

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The United States is planning to invite the parties involved in the Middle East peace process back to the negotiating table for a new round of talks starting in mid-April.

News agencies reported this week that the new round was set to begin April 20. Israel Television reported a starting date of April 19 and said invitations to the talks, co-sponsored by the United States and Russia, would be sent out Wednesday.

But at the State Department briefing Tuesday, spokesman Richard Boucher would say only that invitations to the peace talks would be issued “soon.” He said nothing about the April 19 or 20 dates.

The Clinton administration has been working to inject new momentum into the peace talks, which have been stalled since December, when Israel deported 415 Palestinians to Lebanon.

The president and Secretary of State Warren Christopher have made the peace process a priority. On his recent visit to the region, his first foreign trip, Christopher sought to move the focus of the parties away from the deportation issue and toward a quick resumption of the peace negotiations.

U.S. officials have said that they are committed to playing the role of a “full partner” in the process, assuming the parties are committed to serious negotiations.

A question still remains over whether the Palestinians will return to the talks before all the deportees are returned. American officials have expressed optimism that the Palestinian delegation would return to the table when talks resumed.

Assistant Secretary of State Edward Djerejian told members of Congress on Monday that after Christopher’s talks with Israelis and Palestinians, the United States was “persuaded that there was broad agreement in principle on the steps that were needed to restart the peace negotiations.”

Over the next few weeks, Clinton is scheduled to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Rabin arrives in Washington later this week and is scheduled to meet with Clinton next Monday. Mubarak is reportedly planning to meet with Clinton on April 6.

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