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U.s., Soviets Discuss Human Rights, but Fail to Bridge Gap on Mideast

March 25, 1988
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Secretary of State George Shultz said Wednesday night that he and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze disagreed sharply in two days of meetings on the structure of an international peace conference on the Middle East.

The United States views such a conference as ceremonial and leading to direct negotiations between the parties, Shultz told reporters after 12 hours of talks Wednesday with Shevardnadze.

But he said the Soviets view a conference as having authority to impose a solution. Such a conception “is really sharply different from ours,” Shultz said.

The current U.S. Middle East peace initiative contains a provision for an international peace conference to be convened prior to the first round of direct negotiations between Arab countries and Israel. Under the U.S. formula, the five members of the United Nations Security Council would chair the conference, which could not impose solutions.

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir opposes both an international peace conference that could impose solutions, as well as a purely ceremonial one, while Foreign Minister Shimon Peres supports a ceremonial conference, as contained in the U.S. plan.

Shamir said last week in Washington that Shultz had convinced him last fall to agree to an international conference chaired by the two superpowers, and said he would be willing to go to Moscow. But such a conference could not impose solutions.

Jordan reportedly rejected that idea, insisting on wider international involvement.

Shultz did not say how Soviet rejection of the international peace conference provision affects the vitality of his initiative, but said he would return to the Middle East if there was “even a remote chance of being constructive. I don’t have to have a high probability” of success, he added.

Asher Naim, information minister at the Israeli Embassy here, said Tuesday at the National Press Club that Shultz would return to the region within two weeks.

On human rights, Shultz said that topic “as always” was first on the agenda at his meeting with Shevardnadze, and was the principle subject at Shevardnadze’s meeting with President Reagan Wednesday. During that meeting, Reagan announced that a summit will be held in Moscow May 29 to June 2.


A new forum for discussing human rights was initiated Thursday. From now on, in addition to the usual human rights discussions at high level U.S.-Soviet meetings, a special “roundtable” will be convened.

The first such session met Thursday. The U.S. delegation was led by Richard Schifter, assistant secretary of state for human rights and humanitarian affairs. It reportedly focused on international human rights accords.

Shultz said that in his talks with Shevardnadze, he noted that the Soviet Union has permitted an increase in German and Armenian ethnic emigration, “but at the same time we pressed our concern that Jewish emigration seems to have reached a plateau.”

He said Shevardnadze called for improvement in U.S. human rights policies. He said that racial discrimination still exists and that capital punishment for minors should be eliminated.

Shevardnadze, speaking through a translator at a news conference at the Soviet Embassy, termed the human rights discussions “increasingly constructive” and said “we have agreed that we should just continue an extremely critical manner of conversation on these matters, that we should abandon this accusatory and denouncing matter of talk on these questions.”

He said the Politburo increasingly has been approving “legislation in the sphere of human rights and meeting the spiritual and material demands of people.”

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