U.S. scrambles to save Mideast peace Israel, Syria halt talks

U.S official says Peres is 'in trouble'

March 05, 1996|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Israeli-Syrian talks on the Eastern Shore were halted indefinitely yesterday as the Clinton administration struggled to prevent the entire Middle East peace process from falling victim to a rash of suicide bombings in Israel.

Trying both to salvage negotiations and shore up an Israeli Labor government that has made peace its hallmark, the administration urged Arab states to help halt the fanatical Islamic terrorism that has killed 59 Israelis since Feb. 25.

With the fourth suicide bomb attack to hit Israel in nine days, one U.S. diplomatic official said the whole peace process is "under assault." The latest attack puts in doubt both an Israeli-Syrian deal and talks later this year between Israel and the Palestinians on such contentious topics as the status of Jerusalem and Palestinian statehood.

President Clinton yesterday pledged American support in helping to bring those responsible for the bombings to justice.

"Once again, the enemies of peace have murdered completely innocent Israeli citizens, including children, in their hysterical, determined, fanatic attempt to kill all hope of peace between Israel and Palestinians," Mr. Clinton said during a political trip to Michigan.

He called on Yasser Arafat, head of the Palestinian national authority, to "do more" to crack down on Hamas, but the president added, "I am convinced that he wants peace."

Mr. Clinton is expected to approve, perhaps today, a series of measures that would help Israel prevent future terrorist attacks and enlist more support for the peace process from Arab regimes.

Bomb detection technology

A senior official said Israelis have expressed interest in getting the latest U.S. bomb-detection technology.

Diplomatic steps would be taken to isolate terrorist groups and the regimes that support them, officials said.

Mr. Clinton wrote to Syrian President Hafez el Assad Sunday urging the Syrian government to sever relationships with groups that support terrorism.

Hamas and other extreme anti-Israeli organizations continue to maintain offices in the Syrian capital. Despite its peace process with Israel, Syria remains on the American list of nations that sponsor terrorism.

The message, while not threatening, made clear that "now is the time for action on the part of everyone committed to this process," one U.S. official said.

Israel, saying that the time was not "appropriate" for continuing talks at the Wye River Conference Centers near Queenstown, recalled its negotiators and did not say when they would return.

But Egypt's ambassador to Washington, Ahmed Maher, whose country has been following the talks closely, said, "I think any interruption will be only temporary."

Major progress depends on the survival of the Labor Party government of Shimon Peres, which the U.S. official said is "in trouble."

TC The opposing Likud bloc is seen by U.S. officials as far less willing to make the concessions necessary for Arab-Israeli peace.

Steps to halt fund-raising

Under pressure from Israel, the administration prepared new steps to halt fund-raising in the United States by the Islamic extremist group Hamas, which has claimed responsibility for recent bombings.

The administration hopes to see Syria both publicly condemn the bombing and crack down on anti-Israel terrorist groups operating in Damascus, the official said.

Secretary of State Warren Christopher cut short a visit to Latin America and the Caribbean to attend a meeting yesterday at the White House of the president's top national security advisers.

Earlier, he said he would ask Israel's Arab neighbors not to offer safe haven to terrorists.

"One thing that I'm going to do is to call on the neighboring countries to assist Israel to try to ensure that there be no safe haven for these terrorists, and we can pursue them wherever they are," he said.

One suggestion put before policy-makers yesterday was to convene officials from a number of Arab countries and from Israel to condemn the bombings jointly and to join in trying to shut down Hamas offices elsewhere in the Arab world.

In a just-released report to Congress, the State Department said that Mr. Arafat's authority "must act in a more systematic and effective way to fight terror."

One official said now is the time for Mr. Arafat to convene the Palestine Liberation Organization's governing body to repeal its covenant calling for Israel's destruction.

Continued U.S. financial support for the Palestinian authority will otherwise be in jeopardy, officials said.

Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman, the New York Republican who is chairman of the House International Relations Committee, slapped a hold on further aid for the Palestinian authority yesterday, and planned to introduce a resolution today calling into question Mr. Arafat's support for the peace process.

Robert Satloff, executive of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a pro-Israel think tank, said the White House should refuse to resume the Wye talks until Syria acted against terrorists.

"I don't think the United States should host and pay for peace negotiations if all the parties aren't committed to the war against terrorism," he said.

Pub Date: 3/05/96

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