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Stops in Amman, Damascus, Cairo Yield Little Progress for Shultz

February 29, 1988
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Secretary of State George Shultz met with Israeli leaders in Jerusalem and visited three Arab capitals over the weekend. But there were no indications that his shuttle diplomacy has made any headway toward advancing the new American peace plan in the region.

So far, Shultz has been stymied in his attempts to meet with Palestinian leaders from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. He had invited 15 key Palestinian figures for talks in East Jerusalem Friday. None showed up. Apparently they took seriously Palestine Liberation Organization threats against their lives.

The secretary of state flew to Cairo Sunday for several hours of talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. He was due back in Jerusalem Sunday night.

Shultz spent Saturday visiting Syria and Jordan. In Damascus, he conferred for more than two hours with the Syrian foreign minister, Farouk al-Sharaa, and later with President Hafez Assad.

He met in Amman with Crown Prince Hassan, Prime Minister Zaid al-Rifai and Foreign Minister Taher al-Masri. King Hussein is presently in London, where he may meet with Shultz on Tuesday. His absence from his capital for Shultz’s visit indicated to some American officials that the Jordanian ruler is not ready to make a firm commitment with respect to the American plan.

On Friday, Shultz held separate meetings in Jerusalem with Premier Yitzhak Shamir and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. He also called on President Chaim Herzog and had a working lunch with Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

The absence of official statements in Jerusalem or the Arab capitals indicated that despite his gruelling schedule and upbeat remarks, Shultz has made little progress so far.

Shultz has been in daily contact with Israeli leaders since his arrival here Thursday evening. His forays to neighboring Arab capitals have been preceded and followed by separate talks with Shamir and Peres in Jerusalem.

The fact that they are still separate is a fair indication of the continuing deadlock between Shamir, leader of the Likud faction, and Labor Party leader Peres over the American plan and the peace process in general.


After Sunday morning’s meeting with the two coalition partners, their respective aides offered contradictory versions of what Shultz had told them of his discussions the day before in Damascus and Amman. Foreign Ministry sources said Jordan gave the Americans a “green light” to continue exploring ways to peace.

But according to the Prime Minister’s Office, Jordan has taken a tougher position than before. Shamir’s and Peres’ aides could agree only that the Shultz mission is still in the “exploratory stage.”

Officials in Jerusalem believe the objective of Shultz’s current round of shuttle diplomacy is limited to getting a “final assessment” of the Arab and Israeli positions. They say the success or failure of his mission will be determined by his meeting Tuesday with Hussein in London.

Shultz is scheduled to meet President Reagan in Brussels Wednesday. According to sources in Israel, if the situation looks promising, he will come back to the Middle East later this week without returning to Washington.

The Cabinet spent little time discussing Shultz’s mission at its regular meeting Sunday. It concentrated instead on the continuing violence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Peres disclosed to reporters that the unrest in the territories came up at his meeting with Shultz Sunday morning.

Debate on the American peace mission apparently has been confined to the Inner Cabinet, the government’s top policy-making body.

The Inner Cabinet consists of five Labor and five Likud senior ministers. It met last Wednesday, but adjourned after only two hours, unable to forge a unified position in advance of Shultz’s arrival.


Government sources had said the Inner Cabinet would hold at least one other meeting while Shultz is in the region. One was scheduled directly after the full Cabinet session Sunday. But it was postponed until later in the week, after Shultz’s departure.

According to Shamir’s aides, who spoke to reporters after the prime minister and Shultz had their first meeting Friday, the secretary of state did not offer a fully developed peace plan, only an idea — and Shamir outlined his own ideas of an Arab-Israeli settlement.

Shamir himself described the meeting as “a very friendly and thorough discussion about many subjects concerning the situation in the area, the aspirations of all of us for getting peace and about our bilateral relations, and something about the international situation.”

During the Shultz-Shamir meeting, some 2,000 right-wing demonstrators, most of them wearing skullcaps, protested outside the Prime Minister’s Office against what they called Shultz’s “enforced mediation.” The demonstration was authorized.

Peres’ meeting with Shultz on Friday was attended by U.S. Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Moshe Arad, Israel’s ambassador to Washington. Peres said later he was impressed by Shultz’s presentation, which he thought was “very much to the point,” and indicated that “the process has started.”


Probably the most frustrating aspect of Shultz’s visit was the failure of 15 Palestinian leaders to show up for a meeting he had invited them to at the American Colony Hotel in East Jerusalem Friday night.

Undaunted, Shultz read a lengthy statement to the empty chairs. It was made available to the press. Among other things, he stressed that “Palestinians and Israelis must deal differently with one another. Palestinians must achieve control over political and economic decisions that affect their lives,” he said.

“What we are seeking must be achieved through negotiations,” he said. “Negotiations work. Negotiations produce agreements which meet the fundamental concerns of all parties.”

Expressing the hope that one day Israelis and Arabs would cooperate in the areas of science, technology, art and literature, Shultz said, “Our vision is of Israelis and Palestinians living together in peace in this land where the rights of each are respected, where the energies of all are directed at peaceful purposes, where security and trust exist.”

The secretary of state warned, however, that “peace-making is difficult. Peace has its enemies,” he said in a statement corroborated by the absence of his intended audience.

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