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Peres Says Jordan Has Agreed to a Joint Economic Conference

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In another sign that Israel and Jordan may be developing closer ties, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said this week that Jordan had agreed to the idea of hosting a joint economic conference in Jordan later this year.

“I think this may crown a very long list of negotiations between us and them, and though it will not be a formal peace, it will be really the closest thing to having peace,” Peres said Wednesday in an address at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy here.

Peres said the Jordanians had agreed to the idea of such a conference, but had yet to specify a date.

A Jordanian spokeswoman was more cautious Wednesday, saying that Jordan was still considering the idea of an economic conference, which had been suggested by Israel, and had not yet made a decision.

“We are looking into it. We haven’t ruled it out, we haven’t taken any decision,” the spokeswoman said.

Peres said that the Jordan River Valley that lies between the two countries “can become a valley of peace.”

He said that economic development there would help Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians.

The foreign minister’s comments came just a week after Jordan’s King Hussein, also visiting here, spoke of future cooperation between Israel and Jordan, and said he would be interested in meeting soon with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

The two countries have been involved in three-way economic talks that also include the United States.

Israel is currently engaged in a round of peace talks here with Jordan, and also with Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinians.

In his remarks, Peres said that “in 1994, the first thing on our agenda will be to implement the agreement” with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Peres met last weekend in Switzerland with PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, in a continuing effort by the two sides to resolve differences in their interpretations of the declaration of principles signed last September.

Peres also commented that Israel is still not sure how Syrian President Hafez Assad defines “peace.”

“Assad has decided on a strategy of peace, but I am not sure that he has announced the tactics. We are waiting for the tactics of peace,” the foreign minister said.

During his visit here, Peres met with top administration officials and members of Congress.

On Wednesday, he met with Vice President A1 Gore and with National Security Adviser Tony Lake.

A statement released by the vice president’s office on Wednesday said that Gore had “solicited Foreign Minister Peres’ views on the status of negotiations” between Israel and the PLO.

The two men also discussed the Builders for Peace project launched last September and designed to encourage American Jews and Arab Americans to invest jointly in their administered territories.

Peres also attended a luncheon on Capital Hill with about 20 members of Congress, organized by Sen. Howard Metzenbaum (D-Ohio).

On Tuesday, Peres briefed Secretary of State Warren Christopher on his meeting with Arafat. The two also discussed the peace process.

State Department spokesman Mike McCurry was vague Wednesday when asked by reporters whether Peres had discussed Arafat’s views on a future Palestinian state.

Peres reportedly told Israeli reporters Tuesday that Arafat had said in Switzerland that he would lead toward a confederation with Jordan, not toward an independent Palestinian state.

The question of the shape of a future Palestinian entity has long been controversial.

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