Bush sending Baker to Israel to renew peace process

July 14, 1992|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- President Bush, moving to jump-start the Middle East peace process with the help of a more receptive Israeli government, will send Secretary of State James A. Baker III to the region this weekend.

Mr. Bush also has invited Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to Kennebunkport, Maine, next month, it was announced yesterday.

Mr. Bush spoke by telephone with Mr. Rabin yesterday as Israel's Parliament formally installed the new Labor-led government. A White House statement said Mr. Rabin voiced a desire to give new momentum to the peace process.

Officials said Mr. Baker would leave Washington on Saturday, traveling to Israel and then to Arab countries engaged in the peace process.

On his trip, he is likely to want to pin down Israel's government on how it intends to curb settlements in the Israeli-occupied territories.

Agreement on an acceptable settlements freeze would open the way to a double breakthrough in U.S.-Israeli and Arab-Israeli relations: a U.S. nod to billions of dollars in loan guarantees to help settle immigrants in Israel and a lifting of the Arab economic boycott of Israel. Saudi Arabia said last year it would endorse a lifting of the boycott in exchange for a settlements freeze.

The new round of diplomacy will pave the way for an upcoming round of Arab-Israeli peace talks in Rome.

White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said in Kennebunkport that Mr. Bush told the prime minister "how much he looked forward to working with him to deepen the U.S.-Israeli partnership and to promote the peace with security that the Israelis have rightly yearned for so long."

Mr. Rabin has assigned a high priority both to achieving a Palestinian autonomy agreement and to improving U.S.-Israeli relations, which were badly frayed by the previous Likud government's pursuit of a "greater Israel" through settlement of the West Bank, Gaza and Golan Heights.

The president's invitation to his private home at Kennebunkport, a special gesture accorded few other foreign leaders, marked a way of responding in kind to Mr. Rabin's initiative.

The political stakes in a revived peace process are high for both leaders. Mr. Rabin needs the loan guarantees and an easing of tension with Arabs to rebuild Israel's economy. Mr. Bush, who launched the peace process after the Persian Gulf war, needs to ensure that he has left the region safer and to improve ties with U.S. Jews.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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