Shultz’s Peace Plan Rebuffed by Syria, Jordan
Secretary of State George P. Shultz, shrugging off new rebuffs to his Middle East peace initiative, said Saturday that his first task in what could be a long diplomatic shuttle is to overcome unrealistic expectations by all parties.
“The idea in negotiations of this kind is to get people to be realistic,” he said. “We’re not there yet.”
Shultz remained optimistic, although the foreign ministers of Syria and Jordan responded to his call for fresh thinking by repeating well-worn positions that have already been rejected by Israel.
Shultz conferred for three hours with Syrian President Hafez Assad, marking the end of a U.S. campaign for diplomatic isolation of the Damascus regime, but apparently he made no headway in his effort to persuade Syria to either join in the peace process or at least refrain from torpedoing it.
First Visit in 5 Years
“No agreement was reached,” Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Shareh said as Shultz was preparing to leave Damascus after the first top-level U.S. visit to the Syrian capital since Shultz, himself, stopped here almost five years ago.
“I would only underline what the foreign minister said--we did not reach any agreement,” Shultz said.
Earlier Saturday in Amman, Shultz failed to shake Jordanian opposition to key elements of his package.
Nevertheless, U.S. officials said it is significant that leaders of both Syria and Jordan urged Shultz to continue his attempt to bridge the gap between the Arab states and Israel. The officials said it was no surprise that the first round of talks failed to produce a breakthrough.
When a reporter asked Shultz if progress was made in his meeting with Assad, the secretary of state replied with a chuckle, “I am overwhelmed by your sense of humor.”
“You have to have patience in this part of the world,” one official said. “They agreed to continue talking.”
The official said Richard W. Murphy, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern and South Asian affairs, probably will return to Damascus this Wednesday and Thursday while Shultz joins President Reagan in Brussels for a North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit meeting. He added that there is “a good chance” that Shultz would return to the region once the NATO meeting ends.
Little to Show So Far
Nevertheless, Shultz has very little to show for the first two days of his current effort. On Friday, Israeli leaders gave him very little encouragement, and Palestinians from the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip refused even to talk to him. He is scheduled to visit Cairo today and will return to Amman on Monday.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Taher Masri delivered an unyielding repetition of Jordan’s longstanding demand for an international conference followed by total Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza Strip territories that it has occupied since the 1967 Middle East War.
Later, Syria’s Shareh endorsed the Jordanian stand, using almost identical language in demanding an international conference.
Israel long ago rejected Jordan’s conditions for a settlement. At the same time, Jordan, Syria and other Arab states have refused to consider Israeli proposals. Shultz mounted his latest Middle East initiative in an effort to nudge both sides toward compromise.
“The only way to arrive at a peaceful settlement is the convening of an international conference to be attended by the five permanent members of the (U.N.) Security Council as well as all the parties to the conflict, including the PLO,” Masri said.
He said the settlement must afford Palestinians “the right to determine their own future,” a phrase which usually implies establishment of an independent Palestinian state, an outcome that has been firmly rejected by Israel.
In his public response to Masri, Shultz said, “Obviously that’s their point of view.”
As it turned out, it is also Syria’s point of view.
“We think that a solution to the problem of the Middle East can’t be achieved without the elimination of the Israeli occupation of all the occupied Arab territories and the satisfying of the Palestinian national rights,” Shareh said.
“We believe that this solution can be best dealt with through the convening of an international conference under the U.N. auspices in which the five permanent members of the Security Council and the parties concerned, including the PLO, would participate,” he added.
About a year ago, U.S.-Syria relations were close to an open break after Washington accused Damascus of attempting to plant a bomb on a London-Tel Aviv flight of an Israeli airliner. At that time, the United States withdrew its ambassador and announced a ban on visits to Syria by high-level U.S. officials.
Shultz said earlier this week that he decided to visit Damascus now because Syria is an important regional power with an effective veto over the peace process.
“The Syrian involvement in terrorism seems to have diminished,” he added.
While the United States has eased its effort to isolate Syria, American policy continues to preclude any official contact with the PLO.
PLO Ban a Complication
A senior official said the ban on PLO contacts could complicate the current effort to promote a comprehensive peace between Israel and all of its Arab adversaries. However, the official added, “It’s the law and so we obey it.”
Nevertheless, the official said that congressional attempts to punish the PLO are often counterproductive. He said that a law requiring the closure of the PLO’s observer mission at the United Nations was sure to provoke an overwhelming vote in the world body calling for the mission to remain open.
“People who voted for that law thought they were doing something against the PLO, and they will end up glorifying the PLO,” the official said. “It was one of the dumber things our Congress has done recently.”