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Multilateral Talks Making Progress, with Next Round Set for This Autumn

Though they are overshadowed by the more high-profile bilateral peace negotiations in Washington, the multilateral talks between Israel and a variety of Arab and other nations have been making notable progress.

The next round of talks, scheduled for October and November, will take place in various venues including, for the first time, two Arab countries: Tunisia and Egypt.

They will mark the first time since the peace process began in October 1991 that Israel has taken part in negotiations in an Arab country.

While Israel has diplomatic relations with Egypt, it does not with Tunisia, where the Palestine Liberation Organization is based.

Other locations for multilateral meetings this fall are Moscow, Copenhagen and Beijing. Israel established relations with China only last year.

The locations were announced two weeks ago at a steering group meeting in Moscow designed to coordinate the future path of the multilateral talks. The July 7 meeting was co-chaired by Edward Djerejian, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, and his Russian counterpart, Victor Pasuvaluk.

The multilaterals, involving over two dozen countries, involve meetings of working groups set up to deal with five key regional issues: arms control, economic development, refugee issues, water resources and environmental concerns.

They are designed to complement the bilateral talks Israel has been conducting separately with Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and the Palestinians.

U.S., ISRAEL PLEASED WITH PROGRESS

Syria and Lebanon have refrained from taking part in the multilaterals, but the Palestinians are now involved in all five working groups.

In the last round, held this past spring, all five groups moved forward. Both American and Israeli officials said they were pleased with the overall results.

In the economic development group, the parties, in conjunction with the World Bank, started identifying priority infrastructure projects in the region, including in the territories.

After the July 7 meeting, Djerejian said in a statement that the steering committee hoped that “additional funds will be made available to the Palestinians” to meet their needs as they moved toward interim self-government.

In the water resources group, negotiators have instituted workshops on water conservation, desalination and other issues.

The refugee group is focusing on the sensitive topic of family reunification, as well as the issues of public health and child welfare.

In the arms control group, negotiators have agreed to hold military base visits and workshops before the talks resume in the fall.

And in the environmental group, maritime pollution and desert reclamation projects are being implemented.

The parties have also organized activities between sessions to augment the contacts made during the rounds themselves.

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