Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres expressed "great interest" Monday in a proposal by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak for preliminary U.S.-sponsored talks between Israel and a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation.
In an interview published by the New York Times on Monday, Mubarak said such meetings could lay the groundwork for broader Arab-Israeli peace negotiations.
"The prime minister read President Mubarak's proposals with great interest," a statement released by Peres' spokesman said. "They merit positive and precise examination."
Speaking in a television interview here Monday night, Peres said the proposal for a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation "is acceptable to us" as long as "it does not include PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) representatives." The Israeli leader charged that "the PLO is still involved in terror. They cannot come (to negotiations) with both a microphone and a pistol."
Peres also cautioned that "we have to hear the views of the Jordanians and others" regarding the Mubarak proposals.
In an English-language newscast widely viewed in Israel, Jordan television reported Monday night only that portion of Mubarak's New York Times interview in which the Egyptian leader praised the Feb. 11 agreement between King Hussein and PLO leader Yasser Arafat for joint action toward Mideast peace. It did not mention the call for U.S.-sponsored talks.
Peres also confirmed Monday that he had met in Bucharest last week with Mohammed Abdullah, chairman of the Egyptian Parliament's Foreign Relations and Defense Committee, who acted as an envoy from Mubarak. Israel radio suggested Monday night that Abdullah briefed Peres on Mubarak's proposals at that time.
Peres was in Bucharest on a state visit during which he held several hours of talks with Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu. The Peres visit followed by only a few days a stop by Arafat in the Romanian capital.
A Role in Sadat's Trip
Romania is the only Soviet Bloc nation to maintain relations with Israel, and Ceausescu is credited with playing an important role in the preliminary discussions that led to the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's dramatic trip to Jerusalem in 1977 and the subsequent peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.
Ezer Weizman, an Israeli minister without portfolio who was deeply involved in the peace negotiations with Egypt, called the Mubarak proposal "a positive and interesting step," adding, "It shows leadership." Weizman said he thought that Mubarak acted "because he felt the Peres government was one he could talk to."
Weizman accompanied Peres to Bucharest, but he refused in an interview on Israel radio to disclose any additional details about the discussions there. Regarding the meeting with Abdullah, he said only: "It was a contact to try to reach a joint assessment on whether the peace process could be moved forward. I think that on the basis of the meeting--but not only this meeting--there is a foundation for beginning to talk."
Peres Aide in Egypt
Meanwhile, Moshe Shahal, Israel's energy minister and a confidant of Peres, arrived in Egypt on Monday night. Although he is ostensibly in Cairo for talks with his Egyptian counterpart, Shahal is reportedly carrying a message for Mubarak from the Israeli prime minister. There is speculation here that this contact may lead to a Peres-Mubarak summit meeting.
Speaking to reporters at a Cairo reception for visiting President Siaka P. Stevens of Sierra Leone, Mubarak said Monday that he is considering sending his top political adviser, Osama Baz, to Jerusalem to meet with Peres. However, Baz later said he has no plans to go and that possibly another envoy might be selected.
Some Israeli leaders, like Weizman, are known to believe that chances for any breakthrough in peace negotiations with Jordan are unlikely until Israel and Egypt warm up what has become known as the "cold peace" between them.
Israeli Reaction Mixed
The reaction here to the announcement two weeks ago of the Hussein-Arafat agreement was mixed, at best. Weizman has called it a positive development. But Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir said Sunday, as he left Israel on a trip to Europe, "We don't see this agreement as being any opening to peace in the region."
Israel has long refused to consider any talks with Arafat or any other Palestinian Arabs associated with the PLO, at least until the PLO renounces the use of force and recognizes Israel's right to exist as specified in U.N. Security Council Resolution 242.
Mubarak suggested in his interview with the New York Times that the PLO nominate moderate West Bank Palestinians to a joint delegation with Jordan--people who, while they may sympathize with the PLO, are not directly linked to it.
The Hussein-Arafat agreement has also come under heavy fire from opponents both within the PLO and elsewhere in the Arab world. The Syrian news agency reported Monday that Syrian President Hafez Assad has vowed to destroy the pact.