King Hussein of Jordan, claiming a fresh mandate from the Palestine Liberation Organization, offered Wednesday to engage in peace talks with Israel on the basis of two key U.N. resolutions, provided that the Israelis go along with Jordan’s longstanding plan for an international conference on the Mideast.
President Reagan, standing beside Hussein in the White House Rose Garden, praised the monarch’s statement as “further evidence of Jordan’s commitment to a peaceful settlement” of the festering Arab-Israeli dispute. In response, the United States softened its opposition to the sort of conference Hussein wants.
“We are willing to negotiate, within the context of an international conference, a peaceful settlement on the basis of the relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions, including 242 and 338,” Hussein said. “We are offering a unique opportunity for peace which might not be with us for very long.”
In response to reporters’ questions, Hussein said Jordan wants a conference of the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council--the United States, Soviet Union, Britain, France and China--along with Israel and the Arab states to serve as an “umbrella to offer us the opportunity to negotiate.”
Hussein said such a conference obviously would result in direct talks between Israel and its Arab neighbors, including a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation.
Hussein, in the United States to attend his son’s graduation from Brown University in Rhode Island, took the opportunity to meet with Reagan and Secretary of State George P. Shultz. He planned to remain in Washington for the rest of the week before returning to Amman. An earlier planned visit to California was canceled without explanation.
The king, who met earlier this month in Amman with PLO leader Yasser Arafat, said the PLO agreed with everything in his statement, including his endorsement of Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, which spell out the peace-for-territory formula for settling the Arab-Israeli conflict. In Tunisia, the PLO Central Council announced Wednesday that it has endorsed the Arafat-Hussein agreement.
Jordan first called for an international peace conference two years ago after Hussein lost faith in the United States as a broker between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Although U.S.-Jordanian relations are smoother than they were in 1983, the king has not wavered from his international conference plan.
Israel has categorically rejected the conference proposal and the United States--before Wednesday--had also dismissed it as unhelpful to the peace process. When asked about it during his appearance with Hussein, though, Reagan said it was “under discussion, and we have not resolved some differences that we have in views on this.”
‘Nothing Is Static’
A senior U.S. official, asked later about the softening of the U.S. opposition, said: “Nothing is static. You’ve got movement and you’ve got a fluid situation. We are not dropping our concern that a conference would be a setback for the process. As we have spoken of it in the past, it would be an exercise in political theater and rhetoric--but we understand the king’s desire for international support for any agreement that might emerge from the negotiating process.”
The senior official, who declined to be identified by name, also described Hussein’s offer to talk to the Israelis on the basis of Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 as “a significant statement which he (Hussein) said was fully coordinated with the PLO.”
The resolutions, adopted after the Middle East wars of 1967 and 1972, call for Israel to withdraw from captured territory in exchange for a peace treaty and the right to live within “secure and recognized borders.” Jordan has long supported the resolutions, which appear to provide the best chance of regaining Arab control of the West Bank of the Jordan River, occupied by Israel in 1967. The PLO, though, has never explicitly accepted the resolutions.
Right to Exist
Under a decade-old policy, the United States has refused to have anything to do with the PLO until the organization accepts the resolutions and acknowledges Israel’s right to exist. In some more recent formulations, the United States also has called on the PLO to “renounce the use of terrorism” as part of the price of U.S. recognition.
Hussein said nothing about PLO recognition of Israel’s right to exist or of a renunciation of terrorism, although the senior U.S. official said acceptance of the U.N. resolutions, which treat Israel as a legitimate state, certainly would imply recognition of the country’s right to exist.
Still, the official said, the United States wants to hear it directly in an “affirmative, unequivocal way from the PLO.”
Israel refuses to deal directly under any circumstances with the PLO, which it considers to be a terrorist organization.
For its part, Jordan has said it will negotiate with Israel only if it has the full support of the PLO. And the PLO, split into pro- and anti-Arafat factions and engaged in mortal combat with Shia Muslim militiamen in Beirut, would seem to be in little position to start negotiations with Israel even if all other impediments were removed.