Shultz May Visit Mideast if Peace Hopes Justify Trip
Secretary of State George P. Shultz is considering a trip to the Middle East next month in an effort to revive the peace process, the White House said Thursday, but State Department officials stressed that the proposed trip would have to hold out the promise of progress before Shultz would agree to it.
“There has to be enough substance out there to justify him putting his time in,” a State Department official said. “Otherwise, the trip would be viewed as a failure.”
In Halifax, Canada, where Shultz is attending a meeting of North Atlantic Treaty Organization foreign ministers, reports of the possible trip to the Middle East came as a surprise to State Department officials accompanying the secretary of state.
Department spokesman Bernard Kalb, after hours of checking, told reporters in the Nova Scotia capital that Shultz “is always looking for an opportunity to be helpful . . . (in) the Middle East peace process.”
But he added, “The secretary has made no decision regarding a trip to the Middle East.”
Talking to reporters aboard his aircraft Wednesday, Shultz indicated that no trip to the Middle East was imminent.
“We are always ready to try to push the peace process along in the Middle East,” he said. “On the other hand, you can’t force events that aren’t there. . . . We’d like to push, but we’ve got to have something to push with.”
While plans for a Shultz trip remain tentative, the Administration did announce that Jordan’s King Hussein will meet with President Reagan at the White House on June 9. And Vice President George Bush will be visiting Israel, Egypt and Jordan in late July.
The Bush trip is “diplomatic, restoring the foundations of the peace process there,” said Marlin Fitzwater, the vice president’s press secretary.
“We’re in a lull period,” he added. “The vice president wants to reassure all the countries of the Middle East that we’re interested in finding solutions and we can’t give up at this point.”
Undertaking a peace mission would be a high-risk venture for Shultz, who has shied away from the shuttle diplomacy popularized by former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger. After White House spokesman Edward P. Djerejian declared that a Shultz tour of the Middle East is “in the planning stage,” State Department officials in Washington stressed that no final decision has been made.
‘No Grand, New Initiative’
Shultz is proceeding “quite cautiously” in assessing the promise and the pitfalls of such a trip, they said. There is “no grand, new initiative” to introduce, and Shultz understandably is wary of thrusting himself into the fray, these officials said.
At least one pivotal Arab nation, Saudi Arabia, reportedly has been cool to the idea because it believes that chances for progress are minimal.
But the Administration, sensitive to charges that it has allowed the peace process to collapse through neglect, appears determined at least to give the appearance of some activity in the critical region.
Israeli emissary Ezer Weizman met twice with Shultz last week in an effort to persuade him to make a trip to the Middle East to ease Israeli-Egyptian border tensions and to breathe new life into the dormant peace process. Shultz appeared interested but made no commitments, U.S. officials said.
In addition, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has urged Shultz to launch a new round of talks in the area.
Taba May Be Factor
A deciding factor for Shultz could be whether agreement can be reached between Egypt and Israel over the ownership of Taba, a small strip of land at the tip of the Sinai that the Egyptians claim belongs to them but which is now in Israeli possession.
“Taba is not a major issue in our eyes,” a State Department official said. “But until it’s resolved, everything else in the Egyptian-Israeli relationship is on hold, so there’s not much use in working on that.”
While the issue of Taba is peripheral to the overall peace process, Shultz might feel easier about taking on the big assignment if he saw good will demonstrated on a relatively minor issue, officials said. Shultz said Wednesday that if the Taba issue could be settled, “that can be quite a help.”
Compromise Offer Reported
Israel offered Egypt a compromise on the issue Thursday, according to United Press International. Top Israeli officials agreed to drop their demand that the word “correct” be used in the question to be put to an arbitrator who will be asked to define the border between the two nations, UPI reported. But it quoted a Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying the concession did not change Israel’s position.
Egypt wants an arbitrator to determine the “exact” border between the two nations based on lines drawn before Israel captured the entire Sinai Peninsula in the 1967 Six-Day War. Israel wants the border determined by its “correct” location, which it claims should be based on a 1906 map charted during the Ottoman Empire.
Times staff writer Norman Kempster, in Halifax, contributed to this article.