Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, describing himself as "a friend who comes to visit friends," arrived Wednesday for talks with President Reagan that Israel hopes will intensify U.S. anger at the Palestine Liberation Organization after the hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro.
In an arrival statement, Peres outlined an agenda topped by discussions of ways "to remove the threat of terrorism . . . from the momentum for peace."
A senior U.S. official said that the hijacking, Israel's air raid on PLO headquarters in Tunis and recent terrorist attacks on civilians in Israel and the West Bank all complicate the effort to make peace.
"The bitter reality is that the violence does distract," the official said. "We are persuaded it need not derail, must not be allowed to derail, the movement on the peace process."
'Pollyannas Among Us'
The official, who briefed reporters on condition that he not be identified, added dryly that "the Pollyannas among us" believe that the greater the violence in an area, the greater the need to try to make peace.
Peres matched the optimism of the U.S. official, saying: "There are no two states like ours which are such strong partners in our search for world peace. I represent a country which, despite all difficulties, remains optimistic." He said he brought "a message of peace and hope."
Peres is scheduled to meet Reagan and Secretary of State George P. Shultz today. On Friday, he plans to confer with Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger, make a public speech and conduct a press conference before leaving for New York.
Israel has been lavish in its praise of the Administration for its dramatic interception of an Egyptian airliner carrying four Palestinians accused of hijacking the Achille Lauro and murdering Leon Klinghoffer, an elderly and partially-paralyzed American tourist. Indeed, Peres' government has done everything it can to tie the hijacking directly to the PLO and its leader, Yasser Arafat, despite Arafat's public condemnation of the crime.
Prepared to Talk
On other issues, Peres' government has said that it is prepared to talk peace with Palestinian residents of the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, but it has said that the PLO should have no role in the peace process.
Despite the recent turmoil, the U.S. official said that Israel, Jordan and the United States continue to hope that direct peace talks between Israel and Jordan can begin by the end of the year.
He said the main sticking points remain the level of Palestinian participation and Jordan's call for an international conference as an "umbrella" to cover the Arab-Israeli negotiations. Jordan wants to include Palestinians who are acceptable to the PLO, although they may not be members of the organization--but Israel is unwilling to negotiate with Palestinians linked in any way to the PLO.
Neither Israel nor Jordan has offered any compromises on either of the key issues, although there have been hints of slight movement on both sides.
Hussein Scolds PLO
Jordan's King Hussein scolded the PLO earlier this week for refusing to meet British conditions for talks between Geoffrey Howe, the British foreign minister, and a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation.
In an interview on British television, the monarch said there is "no truth at all" to the PLO's version of the controversy, which according to the British apparently erupted after the PLO representatives refused to sign a previously agreed-to statement that included a reference to Israel's right to exist.
It was the first harsh comment Hussein has made about the PLO since Feb. 11, when he and Arafat agreed to pursue a joint strategy toward Israel. An Associated Press dispatch from Tel Aviv said that Israeli government officials highly praised Hussein's comments.
The senior U.S. official said Hussein was "frustrated" with the PLO because the organization had an opportunity in the London talks to establish itself as a credible party in the peace process and "it didn't meet the test."
Nevertheless, the official said, Hussein is not ready to begin talks with Israel without PLO support. The official said that Jordan believes "there is no alternative leadership for the Palestinians."
For its part, Israel may be softening its opposition to Jordan's call for an international conference attended by Israel, the Arab states and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council--the United States, Britain, France, the Soviet Union and China.
Peres said that Israel opposes Soviet participation as long as Moscow refuses to restore diplomatic relations with Israel. But other Israeli officials said privately that Jerusalem wants to restore normal relations with the Soviet Union and is prepared to use the conference as a lure.