Fresh from summit with Egypt, Peres seeks Reagan's support. Israeli leader wants US to help get peace process back on track
Ways for moving toward Middle East peace talks will top the agenda today during a scheduled meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres and President Reagan, Israeli officials said. Mr. Peres' one-week visit to the United States and Canada was originally expected to be little more than a farewell tour for the prime minister, who is to hand over the premiership to Likud leader Yitzhak Shamir on Oct. 14. But the summit meeting held last week between Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Peres injected new meaning into Peres' one-day Washington visit.
Officials close to Peres said the prime minister will discuss in detail the results of the summit with President Reagan, Secretary of State George Shultz, and other senior administration officials. The prime minister is expected to advocate Israel's views on how the Reagan administration should capitalize on the Peres-Mubarak talks, the first such meeting between Egyptian and Israeli heads of state in five years.
``We would like to urge another round of Middle East shuttling by [Assistant US Secretary of State Richard] Murphy,'' one Peres aide said.
Israel Radio announced over the weekend that Israel's ambassador to the US met with the Soviet Union's ambassador in Washington and requested a meeting between Peres and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze. Peres is to stop in New York later this week, where Mr. Shevardnadze will be visiting the UN. One sticking point for holding an international peace conference is Israel's insistence that the Soviet Union can only participate if it restores diplomtic ties with Israel, which it severed during the 1967 war. Observers here speculated that Peres will explore the Soviet views on holding a conference, and the possibility of improved Soviet-Israeli relations.
Peres appears eager to convince the Reagan administration that although he will soon switch to the role of foreign minister, he still will actively pursue peace talks with Israel's Arab neighbors. As the scheduled rotation of posts grows closer, Peres has taken pains to tell interviewers that he sees Israel's pursuit of negotiations as a requirement for his Labor Party's continued participation in Israel's ``national unity'' government.
If Peres is able to turn his summit meeting with President Mubarak into the first step toward an international peace conference, it would almost certainly lead to the collapse of the government and new elections, because the Likud remains adamantly opposed to an international peace conference and to any negotiations that might lead to Israeli territorial concessions.
But the chances of creating a peace issue attractive enough to face the Israeli electorate with hinge on Israel's ability to offer something that will bring Jordan and the Palestinians to a negotiating table. Avraham Tamir, director-general of the prime minister's office, told reporters after the two-day summit ended Friday that he was disappointed it had produced no firm commitment to further talks, and no breakthroughs that would entice Jordan's King Hussein.
During his 26-hour stay in Alexandria, Egypt, the prime minister certainly pushed against the limits imposed on him by the nature of his coalition government with the hard-line Likud half of his Cabinet. In keeping with Mubarak's wishes, Peres made the Palestinian issue and means of getting to an international conference the main focus of the talks. He and Mubarak failed to reach agreement on the key issues of Palestinian representation at peace talks and Palestinian rights.
Israeli Cabinet minister Ezer Weizman acknowledged later that there were ``a few hot-tempered moments and hours'' between the two delegations. Likud Knesset (parliament) member Dan Meridor, who accompanied Peres to the summit, said that the Egyptians tried to persude the Israelis to endorse the formula of Palestinian self-determination within the context of a confederation with Jordan. Peres refused to accept the formula.
But the Egyptians said after the summit that they generally were pleased with its results.
``It's a good appetizer,'' said Tahsin Bashir, a retired Egyptian diplomat who remains closely ties to the Mubarak administration. ``It's a new start. But whether you build something real, that's a different matter.''
Both Egyptian officials and the Israelis said after the summit that the two sides are closer to agreement on the framework for an international peace conference that would include ``all concerned parties'' to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Mubarak also announced, and Peres later confirmed, that they had agreed in principle to the establishment of a preparatory committee to pave the way for such an international conference.
The upbeat assessment from both nations' officials, however, glossed over the fact that they remain far apart on the crucial question of Palestinian representation at such an international conference. Publicly, Egypt insists that the Palestine Liberation Organization represent the Palestinians. Israel still maintains it will not deal with the PLO, which it brands a terrorist organization.
Observers noted that in his comments following the issuing of the joint communiqu'e, Mubarak made no mention of the PLO, nor even any mention of the differences between Israel and Egypt over who should represent the Palestinians in peace negotiations. Instead, the President said that Israel and Egypt ``are going to keep in touch . . . so as to help the comprehensive settlement of the Palestinian issue.
``Of course,'' Mubarak continued, ``we will cooperate with our friend, His Majesty King Hussein, beause he is playing a very important role in the Palestinian problem.'' Such a mention of Jordan's King is bound to worry PLO leader Yasser Arafat, who just abrogated his Feb. 11, 1985, agreement with the King to jointly seek peace negotiations, and who is engaged in a war for public support with the King among Palestinians living in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Jane Friedman contributed to this report from Egypt.