U.S. to aim specific peace bids at Arabs, Israelis, Baker says

March 17, 1991|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Sun Staff Correspondent

ANKARA, Turkey -- The United States will float specific proposals this week to test the willingness of Arabs and Israel to shed rigid positions that have blocked peace for decades, Secretary of State James A. Baker III said yesterday.

While in Ankara, Mr. Baker announced that the United States would make a gift to the Turkish government of one Patriot missile system and would consider a supplemental appropriation for $200 million worth of military assistance. Another country may also give Turkey a Patriot system, he said.

En route home from a 10-day trip to the Middle East and Soviet Union, Mr. Baker said he had laid the "foundation" for an effort to settle the Arab-Israeli and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts.

Mr. Baker told reporters on his plane that he would follow up th talks by telephone. "In some cases we will be addressing maybe one specific and saying, 'What do you think about [it]? How does the following strike you?' " he said. "If we were willing to get X to do Y, would you then be willing to do Z, that kind of thing."

Mr. Baker's trip included consultations with the heads of government or foreign ministers of a dozen countries, plus talks with Palestinians who said they represented the Palestine Liberation Organization.

From his discussions, Mr. Baker said he now has the "distinct impression and sense that the parties to the conflict really want true reconciliation and are ready to make an effort for peace."

"Whether that sense and impression turns out to be correct, we will have to wait and see as we test it in the weeks ahead by putting specific ideas and proposals to them to see if the old stereotypes can be broken."

While saying there is a "basis" to continue working with the Soviets on the Middle East, Mr. Baker spoke cautiously.

How long U.S.-Soviet cooperation on the Middle East will last is in question. Problems include the growing conservative influence the Soviet military in the Kremlin as well as the pull of long-standing Soviet ties as advisers and arms suppliers to some of the most radical Arab regimes.

Growing military clout has created an arms control deadlock, with the United States charging that the Soviets violated a conventional forces agreement by shifting three mechanized army divisions to its navy.

Mr. Baker's first foray into Middle East diplomacy, starting in 1989, ended in failure.

He pressed a peace plan, originally sponsored by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, calling for Palestinian elections leading to negotiations over autonomy for the West Bank and Gaza.

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