WASHINGTON -- The United States wants Europe, Japan and Canada to join the multilateral phase of Middle East peace talks, at least in part to increase the financial incentive for Arabs and Israelis to reach a settlement, according to foreign diplomats here.
The region's economic development is expected to be one of the key topics in the talks between Israel and a number of Arab states, including Saudi Arabia and the other Persian Gulf countries and all the North African states except Libya. Other issues include arms control, water and the environment.
Besides the prospect of future cooperation between Israel and Arab states if peace can be achieved, the talks hold a financial lure for the poor Arab states.
Diplomats mentioned the possibility of the United States and its industrialized allies, together with the oil-rich gulf states, contributing to a multiyear development fund for the Mideast region.
"No one is making commitments," a European diplomat said, "but we've heard suggestions that a fund would be a useful ingredient in any settlement." That is why, he said, the world's richest countries are being encouraged to participate. Encouragement has come from countries in the region as well as from the United States.
A U.S. official insisted that wealth wasn't their only ticket to admission. As exporters and importers, the industrialized countries are involved in the region and can lend expertise. Some also are arms suppliers.
"We've always envisioned . . . that the multilaterals will be the more the merrier, everybody come," a State Department official traveling in Japan with Secretary of State James A. Baker III said yesterday.
Europeans are expected to send a delegate from the European Community, which also was represented at the peace conference in Madrid, Spain. The Japanese are also interested in attending.
Largely obscured by planning for the recent peace conference and subsequent direct negotiations involving Israel, Syria, Jordan and the Palestinians, the multilateral talks were thrown into uncertainty this month by Syria's refusal to attend.
Syria insists first on seeing progress toward recovering territory occupied by Israel. Other Arab states remain willing to join the talks but are mindful of Syria's insistence that no actual agreements be reached before territorial disputes with Israel are addressed.
The timing and location of both the multilateral talks and the resumption of bilateral talks remain uncertain.
The United States wants the bilateral talks to start toward the end of this month and is widely thought to be ready to offer Washington or Williamsburg, Va., as a site if the Arabs and Israelis, as appears increasingly likely, remain deadlocked on a location. But U.S. officials say no proposal has been made and probably won't be until after Mr. Baker returns from Asia Sunday. Cyprus and Rhodes are possible sites mentioned in reports from Israel.
Moscow, Geneva and Brussels, Belgium, are mentioned as possible sites for the multilateral talks, which could start in early December.
Israel reported yesterday that Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir will come to the United States Friday for a private visit that will include Los Angeles, Boston and Baltimore. He is to speak Nov. 21 in Baltimore at the 60th General Assembly of the Council of Jewish Federations, the Israeli Embassy said.