'Full partner' in Mideast talks

April 08, 1993

With one sentence, President Clinton signaled his determination to carry on the Middle East peace round begun by President Bush and complete President Carter's work of brokering an accord between Israel and its neighbors. The sentence, in a press conference with President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt: "As I have made clear, the United States is prepared to assume the role of full partner when the parties themselves return to the negotiating table for serious discussions."

In the code understood by participants, this means the Clinton administration is willing to lean on Israel to make concessions. It means Mr. Clinton wants Arabs to have confidence in his even-handedness.

Yet this is a matter of balance. Mr. Clinton conspicuously refrained from leaning on Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to improve on Israel's timetable of restoring deported Hamas suspects to the Occupied Territories, which reassured Israel but alarmed Arabs. Mr. Clinton evidently convinced Mr. Mubarak that he believes Israel has done all it needs to do now.

The Clinton administration wishes to resume on April 20 the peace talks that stalled for the American election. Only Israel has signed up, so far. President Mubarak, the first Arab leader to visit President Clinton, is being used as an emissary to the Arab world. Both presidents stressed the endorsements of peace made by Syria's dictator Hafez el-Assad. Reportedly, only the PLO on the Arab side resists resuming the talks, reluctant to join while Israel and Lebanon keep 396 virulently anti-PLO Palestinians stranded in no-man's land.

By plunging into Middle East matters immediately after his summit with President Boris Yeltsin of Russia, Mr. Clinton risks his reputation as a neophyte in foreign affairs. He sounds like a seasoned pro, but his administration is notoriously slow in appointing the top officials and ambassadors needed to flesh out policies.

Besides their positive signals about peace talks, Presidents Clinton and Mubarak jointly singled out Iran as a trouble-maker. Mr. Mubarak connects Iran to violence in Egypt that he also connects to the Islamic group accused of inspiring the World Trade Center bombing in New York. That is almost, but not quite, suggesting an Iranian connection to terrorism in America.

Mr. Clinton is talking a good game on the Middle East. If all the parties show up as he hopes, he had better be staffed to take on the responsibilities.


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