Egyptian Minister Intervenes to Break Deadlock in Taba Talks

A one-day visit here by Egyptian Foreign Minister Amre Moussa has raised hopes that talks between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, suspended this week, will be resumed.

After meeting Thursday with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and military officials, Moussa declared his optimism that “things are going in the right direction on the Palestinian-Israeli track.”

Moussa also said he had “definite hopes” for rapid results on other tracks, including that between Israel and Syria.

His comment fueled speculation that there is behind-the-scenes diplomatic movement between Jerusalem and Damascus.

The speculation was intensified when Peres, during an interview with Israel Television, coyly observed that additional progress in the peace process would soon be evident.

Newspapers here have been reporting that Peres held secret talks this week with leaders of an Arab state, either Jordan, Saudi Arabia or Tunisia.

The original purpose of Moussa’s visit was to brief Israeli leaders on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s recent meeting with Syrian President Hafez Assad.

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When the Israeli-PLO talks on Palestinian autonomy in the Gaza Strip and West Bank town of Jericho were suspended this week, Moussa added that issue to his agenda when he met with Israeli leaders.

The suspension of the talks in Taba came after disputes arose over Israel’s plans to withdraw its forces from Palestinian population centers in Gaza and to redeploy them to areas near the Jewish settlements in the area.

Nabil Sha’ath, head of the Palestinian delegation in Taba, said the agreement of principles that formed the basis of the self-rule accord called for Israel to withdraw its military forces and not merely to redeploy them.

Moussa met with Sha’ath in Cairo the day before he came to Jerusalem.

PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat blamed Israel for the suspension, saying Israel was deviating from the declaration of principles.

Arafat reportedly received telegrams from President Clinton and Secretary of State Warren Christopher to continue the autonomy talks.

U.S. officials are also pressuring Israel to move ahead in its talks with Syria. They are said to think that Israel will achieve a breakthrough with Jordan only after talks with Syria resume.

In a separate development, Health Minister Haim Ramon told the Knesset he thinks the PLO will abide by its commitment to amend its covenant and abolish the anti-Israel clauses in it.

Ramon said he expected the PLO to convene the Palestine National Council — the PLO’s so-called parliament in exile — next year and put the issue to a vote. At that time, said Ramon, he expected the relevant clauses to be repealed.

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