Baker seeks Morocco's help with Palestinians

August 04, 1991|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Sun Staff Correspondent

RABAT, Morocco -- Secretary of State James A. Baker III

urged King Hassan II yesterday to join a Middle East peace conference as an observer and to use his influence with Palestinian leaders to persuade them not to block it.

The king withheld a decision on whether to join the conference, to send an observer or to involve Morocco in multilateral talks with Israel, saying that he needed to consult other Arab leaders first.

He also gave no direct answer on the request that he use his influence with the Palestinians, instead asking a series of factual questions, a senior State Department official said.

Most of the two-hour session was devoted to Mr. Baker's giving the king a detailed rundown on the status of his efforts to convene a U.S.-Soviet-sponsored peace conference, which is intended to launch direct talks between Israel and Arab nations.

Mr. Baker is attempting to get the leaders of Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria to bring pressure on the Palestine Liberation Organization to allow Palestinians from the occupied territories to join the peace talks and negotiate with Israel.

The United States stopped dealing directly with the PLO in June 1990, when it refused to condemn a terrorist assault on an Israeli beach led by a PLO faction. The U.S. attitude hardened with the PLO's support for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein during the Persian Gulf war -- which also turned gulf Arabs against PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat.

The PLO was not specifically mentioned, a State Department official said. But its role in the Palestinian leadership was understood.

Morocco's king, chairman of the Maghreb Association and active in Islamic issues, is well positioned to be persuasive. He met last Wednesday with Mr. Arafat.

The PLO, asserting Palestinians' right to choose their own representatives, has rejected Israeli conditions that would bar anyone linked with the PLO, Palestinians from outside the occupied territories and residents of East Jerusalem from the talks.

In a series of talks over months of shuttle diplomacy, Mr. Baker has generated a measure of trust among Palestinian leaders in the region, many of whom face physical danger for even sitting down with him.

He has not set a deadline for Palestinians to respond to the invitation to the peace conference, instead trying to make it easier for them to join the peace process by exerting pressure the PLO leadersand appealing publicly to Palestinians in the occupied territories.

Mr. Baker also wants to win the Maghreb (Northwest African Arab) countries' overall support for a regional peace conference.

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