U.S. plans to take larger role in Mideast peace talks

March 11, 1993|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- The United States, pledging an intensified intermediary role similar to one that brought Israeli-Egyptian peace, announced yesterday a two-week round of Middle East peace negotiations in Washington starting April 20.

Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher promised a U.S. drive to achieve a breakthrough this year similar to former President Jimmy Carter's marathon pressuring of Egyptian President Anwar el Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin at Camp David in 1978.

That effort resulted in Egypt's becoming the only Arab state to make a formal peace with Israel, winning back territory lost in war and gaining a major commitment of U.S. aid.

"We must now seize this opportunity to play the role of full partner, just as we did in the achievement of the Israeli-Egyptian peace 14 years ago," Mr. Christopher told reporters at the State Department.

The promised stronger U.S. role marks a change from the latter half of 1992, when the Bush administration, having engineered the peace process after the Persian Gulf war, generally avoided high-profile intervention during the election campaign.

But Mr. Christopher demurred when asked if President Clinton himself would intercede with the parties, saying, "There are no exact parallels, no exact analogies, and . . . I don't think we can promise an exact replica of the Camp David meetings. But what I can assure is that the president himself is deeply interested in this process. He's been conferring with me and others with regularity on the subject, and I think we can expect his full commitment."

Americans make clear that the role of "full partner" doesn't mean the United States will negotiate in behalf of the Arabs with Israel. Instead, they will try to elicit compromises from each side and try to sell them to the other.

Mr. Christopher returned from his recent Middle Eastern trip confident that Arabs and Israelis are keen to re-enter negotiations after a long hiatus caused both by the U.S. presidential transition and the furor over Israel's deportation of more than 400 Palestinians.

Even in their meetings with Palestinians in Jerusalem, the Americans found more of a desire to overcome the obstacle posed by the December deportations than to dwell on it.

Israel immediately accepted the U.S. invitation.

But in Jerusalem yesterday, Palestinian negotiators made clear they did not feel enough progress had been made to allow them to accept. "We have refused to receive the invitation," their spokeswoman, Hanan Ashrawi, told reporters.

Haidar Abdul-Shafi, chief Palestinian negotiator, said in an interview with the Associated Press that his demand that Israel promise to never again deport Palestinians was a basic human rights issue that would never be bent just to get all Arabs back to the peace talks. But Mr. Christopher dismissed the Palestinians' stance, saying, "I strongly feel that we've not heard the last word from the Palestinians." Arab states are expected to announce their plans to join the negotiations following a foreign ministers' meeting this month.

Officials here believe Palestinians and Israelis are now caught waiting to see who will move first: the Palestinians, by agreeing formally to negotiate, or the Israelis, by hastening deportees' return and improving conditions enough in the occupied territories that the Palestinian public will think negotiations worthwhile.

A new dynamic is a much warmer relationship between the Clinton administration and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin than existed between the Bush administration and former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.

This will likely be strengthened during President Clinton's meeting with Mr. Rabin next week.

The impact of this on the peace process is still unclear. That the Arabs, who had praised Mr. Bush's evenhandedness, are willing to return to the table reflects an eagerness on all their parts to develop a relationship with the Clinton administration.

The U.S.-Israeli relationship faces a challenge from Capitol Hill, where two influential appropriators, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., and Rep. David R. Obey, D-Wis., question levels of aid to Israel and Egypt.

The Clinton administration has pledged to maintain the aid levels, and says expenditures might be reduced once peace is achieved.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.