Invitations to Mideast talks are issued U.S., Soviet Union move as Israelis balk

Arabs accept

October 19, 1991|By Robert Ruby | Robert Ruby,Jerusalem Bureau of The Sun

JERUSALEM -- The United States and the Soviet Union went ahead yesterday with formal invitations to Arab states, Israel and Palestinians to a Mideast peace conference despite an unexpected delay by Israel in deciding whether to attend.

The peace conference was set for Oct. 30 in Madrid.

At the same time yesterday, the Soviet Union and Israel announced the resumption of full diplomatic relations after a lapse of 24 years, a gesture that Israel had insisted upon before it would agree to attend talks co-sponsored by the Soviets.

If the invitations to the conference are accepted, the meeting will produce the first comprehensive Middle East peace talks since 1973 and the first public negotiations ever between Israel and a delegation of Palestinians.

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir deferred a final decision on participating until at least tomorrow, when the Cabinet is expected to vote on the matter. He delayed his response after U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III refused to give Israel a list of the likely Palestinian delegates.

Mr. Shamir predicted that he would eventually recommend attending the conference. But his hesitation helped turn a day intended to demonstrate U.S. diplomatic skills into one of considerable confusion.

Mr. Baker and his Soviet counterpart, Foreign Minister Boris D. Pankin, spent the day intentionally following in each other's footsteps in meetings with Palestinians and Israelis. The two men were apparently determined to announce by the end of the afternoon that peace talks would take place.

"This invitation offers the peoples See MIDEAST, 4A, Col. 4MIDEAST, from 1Ain this region a pathway to ending an era of confrontation, and it offers a basis for a new future," Mr. Baker said at a news conference. "This invitation holds the hope of a new era in the Middle East."

The parties invited to the talks are Israel and its Arab neighbors -- Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. Palestinians are to participate as part of the delegation representing Jordan, which announced its acceptance of the invitation last night. Of the Arab states, only Egypt has already signed a formal peace treaty with Israel.

Jordan, Lebanon and Syria last jointly sent representatives to meet with an Israeli delegation in 1949.

The invitations were issued in the name of President Bush and Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, who are to attend the opening session. Israel and the Arab states are to be represented by their foreign ministers.

Throughout the day here yesterday, Mr. Baker and Mr. Pankin orchestrated a series of events that had long seemed impossible, but that suddenly became almost a matter of course as both superpowers sought to clear the last hurdles to the talks.

Mr. Pankin announced the renewal of diplomatic relations with Israel. The Soviet Union severed diplomatic relations when Israeli forces overran Soviet-backed Arab armies in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Mr. Pankin, who signed the necessary documents with Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy, called the resumption of full ties "a logical and natural step."

A few hours before Mr. Pankin announced the renewal of relations, Mr. Baker was receiving from Palestinians the list of their likely delegates to the conference. Their handing over the list broke another deadlock, this one over the role of the Palestine Liberation Organization in the peace process.

Israeli officials have consistently ruled out holding talks with anyone they consider to be a representative of the PLO, which they treat as a terrorist organization. They have also insisted that they will not negotiate with any Palestinians from East Jerusalem, because it might imply a willingness to discuss taking part of the city out of Israeli control.

The apparent solution was to have the PLO approve the list of delegates during a meeting at its headquarters in Tunisia. Then the PLO allowed the details of its decision to become known through the Palestinians who met yesterday morning with Mr. Baker in East Jerusalem.

Mr. Baker went to Mr. Shamir's office and told him that the list of Palestinians met Israel's conditions. But he declined to tell the Israelis who was on the list.

Mr. Shamir was not satisfied with Mr. Baker's assurances and said that Israel would make inquiries of its own. "In general, I believe him, but as a representative of the state this cannot suffice," the prime minister said. "We will find a way of checking into this."

But Mr. Shamir expressed satisfaction with the framework for talks. According to Mr. Baker, the opening session in Madrid is to be followed four days later by the beginning of face-to-face talks between Israel and the Arab parties. A separate series of talks about regional issues would begin within two weeks.

By issuing the invitations before getting Mr. Shamir's final response, Mr. Baker left him the choice of declaring his intent to send a delegation or appearing to oppose the entire process. Mr. Shamir promptly said that Israel almost certainly would participate.

"After I've analyzed the situation with all its advantages and disadvantages, I think I will recommend to the government to choose this path," Mr. Shamir said. "I can see no better alternative."

"We think we have constructed a good process," Mr. Baker said. "We think this presents an opportunity that should not be missed."

Mr. Shamir can expect an easy victory in the Cabinet if he recommends acceptance -- but also dissension from three small parties of the extreme right. In August, Cabinet members voted 16-3 in favor of attending the peace talks, on the condition that Palestinians form a delegation acceptable to Israel.

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