Christopher begins tour of Mideast Secretary of state seeks to renew peace talks

February 19, 1993|By Newsday

CAIRO, Egypt -- Secretary of State Warren Christopher is taking his turn at Middle East peacemaking amid hints the

United States could become more directly involved, as it did at Camp David, if Arabs and Israelis are willing. But there were also new warnings that Washington could wash its hands of the issue if Mr. Christopher finds the door to compromise closed.

"There are important opportunities here that should not be missed by the parties," Mr. Christopher said yesterday on arrival. "We have come to the region ready to do our best, and we will be assessing whether the parties are ready to do theirs."

Aw senior administration official said Mr. Christopher, who is going to at least five Arab capitals and Jerusalem, intends to gauge whether the Arab states, the Palestinians and the Israelis are serious enough about the peace process to make genuine moves in negotiations.

The official added, "it's a big world with lots of things to do," and though the administration's efforts at peacemaking have a high priority "it can't continue to have a high priority if we're pushing

against a closed door."

Mr. Christopher is trying to bring Israel and the Arabs back to the negotiating table this spring for a ninth round of talks, which have gone almost nowhere.

That task has been complicated by Israel's Dec. 17 deportation of about 400 Palestinians to a no man's land in southern Lebanon -- they were accused of ties to a fundamentalist group that took credit for a series of deadly attacks on Israeli soldiers -- and the refusal of the deportees to go along with Jerusalem's offer to return 100 of them now and the rest before the end of the year.

The new U.S. warning that its patience was limited seemed aimed at both sides.

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