Invitation from Washington

November 26, 1991

Secretary of State James A. Baker III is dragging the unhappy campers of Madrid kicking and screaming to Washington for the second round of Middle East peace talks. The catch for the Dec. 4 meeting agenda is that the participants can no longer pretend that it is procedural and not about substance.

Jordan and Lebanon accepted the invitations. In doing so, while Syria was still undecided, Lebanon's government gave the appearance of making its own policy, which few credit it with doing. Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir made little secret of his annoyance at not being supported by Washington in demanding Middle East venues for the series of bilateral and multi-lateral negotiations. But there was no signal that Jerusalem was willing to be the reason the talks will not take place.

The very issuance of the invitation by Washington provoked discussions between Syria and Egypt, and Syria and the PLO. Washington's pressure brings the probability of talks between Israel and Palestinians on limited autonomy and between Israel and Syria, Jordan and Lebanon on peace and mutual security. The State Department's letter spelling out each side's position of record to the other also forces participants to discuss specifics.

The good news is that the U.S. is using its large bank account of influence in the Middle East to bring these parties together. The bad news is that this type of outside pressure is still necessary. The process that started in Madrid has not yet taken on a momentum of its own. That will have to occur for this round of negotiations to bring permanent progress toward peace in the Middle East.

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