No Need for Syria in Talks, Shultz Says : He Cites Regime’s Opposition to Jordan’s Mideast Peace Moves
Secretary of State George P. Shultz said Saturday that since Syria opposes Jordan’s steps toward Mideast peace, there is no reason to include the Damascus regime in the international “umbrella” that King Hussein wants as a precondition for negotiations with Israel.
Talking to reporters aboard his Air Force jetliner on the flight from London to this resort island off the Carolina coast, Shultz said both Syria and the Soviet Union oppose Hussein’s Feb. 11 agreement with Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat, which forms the basis for Jordan’s current diplomatic offensive.
“We think things of that kind (the Hussein-Arafat pact) are moves in a positive direction, and they (Syria and the Soviet Union) oppose them,” Shultz said when asked about possible Syrian participation in the peace process.
On Opposite Sides
Jordan and Syria have been on opposite sides of most Arab issues for years. Despite their sometimes-violent rivalry, however, Hussein wants to include Syria in his peace effort, probably to head off Syrian charges that he is selling out to Israel.
Israel continues to occupy the West Bank of the Jordan River, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights territories that it captured in the Arab-Israeli war of 1967. Prior to the war, Jordan held the West Bank, Egypt the Gaza Strip and Syria the Golan Heights. U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 calls on Israel to return occupied territory in exchange for peace within internationally recognized borders.
During his recent visit to Washington, Hussein said the Syrians should be invited to any peace conference, although “if they choose not to attend, that’s their business.”
Formal U.S. policy holds that the Golan Heights, which Israel formally annexed in 1981, is covered by Resolution 242 and is subject to negotiations between Syria and Israel, although U.S. officials have been reluctant to stress that point recently.
Shultz said the United States hopes to devise a formula that would meet Hussein’s insistence on international backing for peace talks with Israel. Hussein and Shultz discussed the issue in separate meetings Friday with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in London.
Shultz said that various plans are under consideration but that no decisions have been made yet.
Hussein has proposed a conference to be attended by Israel, the Arab countries still technically at war with Israel and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council--the United States, the Soviet Union, Britain, France and China.
The king insists on such a meeting because he does not want his fellow Arabs to think he is trying to cut a separate deal with Israel the way the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat did. Sadat, who was assassinated by Islamic fundamentalist fanatics in 1981, had recovered the Sinai Peninsula in a peace settlement with Israel but was shunned by the Arab world as a result. Hussein has made it clear that he does not want to face Arab ostracism as a price for talks with the Israelis.
Diplomatic ‘Fig Leaf’
The United States sympathizes with Hussein’s desire for a diplomatic “fig leaf” but is determined to provide it in a way that neither brings the Soviet Union back to the Middle East’s center stage nor emphasizes Syria’s role.
Asked about a possible conference involving the United States, the members of the European Economic Community and possibly some other Western countries to form a backdrop for Jordanian-Israeli talks, Shultz said, “I wouldn’t rule anything out except for the kind of conference that has been proposed (by Hussein).”
Shultz also rejected a conference presided over by Washington and Moscow in the roles of dual chairmen but excluding other U.N. Security Council members. The Soviet Union suggested such a meeting as an alternative to Hussein’s proposal.
The United States has made it clear that it is prepared to go along with Hussein’s suggestion for a meeting between a U.S. team headed by Assistant Secretary of State Richard W. Murphy and a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation. Such a meeting could be held as early as next month if the thorny problem of choosing the Palestinians can be solved. In line with the position of Israel, which regards the PLO as solely a terrorist organization, the United States insists that no PLO members serve on the delegation.