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US Mideast peace plan treading water. Shultz shuttles but fails to get clear answer from Arabs or Israel

Following a second day of shuttle diplomacy, Secretary of State George Shultz's Mideast peace plan remains in a state of diplomatic limbo. Inconclusive talks with Israeli officials Monday left US officials feeling that some clear expression of support from Jordan's King Hussein was more crucial than ever to keep the plan alive.

But following a 90-minute session in Amman yesterday, King Hussein remained non-committal. Meanwhile in Damascus Mr. Shultz's arrival was greeted with expressions of official skepticism in the Syrian-controlled press.

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Two months after its unveiling, the Shultz plan has still not drawn a definitive yes or no from any party in the region.

The US plan calls for peace talks leading to eventual self-government for the West Bank and Gaza. Jordan's support for the proposal is considered essential to break the deadlock in the Israeli Cabinet over the plan.

To keep Jordan from finally closing the door, Shultz will have to find some way to overcome Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir's opposition to ceding Israeli control over the West Bank and Gaza.

Shultz has assured the Arabs that a final settlement will be based on the land-for-peace formula spelled out in United Nations Resolution 242.

Shultz will also have to convince King Hussein that Israel will not drag its feet on a final settlement after an interim peace plan has been agreed to.

The US has promised that the process will be ``indivisible.''

In discussions in Jerusalem on Monday, Shultz and Israeli leaders got down to specifics on possible arrangements for eventual self-government for the West Bank and Gaza, though no details have been made public.

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The unexpected focus on substance was an attempt to sidestep the issue most likely to elicit Israeli rejection of the US plan: Shultz's proposal for an international conference to launch direct talks.

The liberal half of Israel's divided government has endorsed the conference idea, but it is one of several key points which the conservative ``Likud'' half has resisted.

``The Likud will have to be dragged like a bull with a rope through its nose through the whole process,'' comments a prominent Israeli defense analyst on the task facing Shultz in Israel.

Shultz is scheduled to hold his final round of talks with Israeli leaders today before traveling to Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, Israeli soldiers in southern Lebanon intercepted an Arab guerrilla force attempting to infiltrate Israel.

The incident, in which two guerrillas were killed and four Israeli soldiers wounded, occurred early Tuesday, but news was withheld by military censors for several hours.

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