Thatcher Urges Mideast Peace Steps Now

Times Staff Writer

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on Wednesday urged immediate diplomatic action to resolve the explosive Arab-Israeli dispute, calling for a settlement that offers hope to all the people of the region.

The British leader also called for a meeting of North Atlantic Treaty Organization heads of government before President Reagan travels to Moscow. The Reagan trip is tentatively scheduled for late May or early June.

"It is of the highest importance, particularly in an election year in the United States, that we should underline the unity and solidarity of the NATO alliance," Thatcher said in a speech to members of the Foreign Press Assn.

She reiterated her belief that an international conference on peace in the Middle East would be the best framework for negotiations and indirectly criticized the Reagan Administration for not supporting the conference idea with more enthusiasm.

"The international peace conference would deserve much more chance of getting under way if more people, as we did, had made it quite clear that it was the way forward," Thatcher said. "I think if more international politicians said that, it would have had a much bigger effect on Israel and its stance."

The United States has expressed support for such a conference but is less than enthusiastic about the concept, in part because it would involve Soviet participation.

Thatcher spoke against a backdrop of mounting concern here that the Reagan Administration has lost its will to deal with politically sensitive foreign policy issues such as the Middle East crisis.

She said the present wave of violence in the occupied territories--the Gaza Strip and the West Bank of the Jordan River--underscores the need for urgent action.

"Time is running out even faster than we thought," she said.

She indicated that she is prepared to play an active role in helping resolving the issue.

'I Shall Do It'

"If I see any possible opportunity to play a constructive, practical role which will help the way ahead, I shall do it," she said.

In the last two years, Thatcher has taken a closer interest in the region. In May of 1986, she became the first British prime minister to visit Israel. She has also visited Egypt and Jordan, and she meets frequently with Jordan's King Hussein on his private trips to Britain.

Her forthright comments about the Arab-Israeli conflict came a week after one of her junior ministers ignited a diplomatic furor in Israel by calling conditions at a Palestinian camp near Gaza as "an affront to civilized values."

The remark, by David Mellor, a minister of state for foreign affairs, was widely dismissed at first as coming from an official relatively inexperienced in foreign affairs. But it has since been interpreted as a calculated attempt by the Thatcher government to convey the sense of urgency with which it views the crisis.

On Wednesday, Thatcher spoke of being disappointed that "the coalition government in Israel and the Reagan presidency seem likely to pass without any major advance towards a solution of the Arab-Israeli problem."

Earlier in the day she met for nearly an hour with Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), a ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Biden is in Europe assessing sentiment for the Soviet-American treaty, signed last month, that calls for eliminating ground-launched medium-range nuclear missiles.

According to Biden, Thatcher said that any major Senate amendments to the treaty "would be catastrophic for the alliance."

Interviewed on the ABC television program "Good Morning, America," Biden said that America's European allies have expressed full support for the treaty.

"There's overwhelming support for the treaty," he said. "There's genuine concern that if the Senate didn't ratify it, it would be disastrous."

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