Bush Engages in 'Summits' on Mideast : 'No New Initiatives' as He Meets Israelis, Arabs, Other Leaders

From Associated Press

President Bush, on the first day of his Far East visit, plunged into a series of mini-summits with Israeli and Arab leaders, as the United States suggested that new Soviet initiatives in the Middle East are merely "rhetorical exercises."

Against the backdrop of an imperial Japanese funeral, Bush conferred with Jordan's King Hussein, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Israeli President Chaim Herzog. Bush pledged that the United States will take an active role in the search for peace in the region.

Reporting on the talks, Secretary of State James A. Baker III said there are "perhaps some opportunities out there with respect to the Middle East peace process that haven't existed before."

In particular, Baker noted that the United States has opened talks with the Palestine Liberation Organization, which Washington had shunned for years as a terrorist group.

Baker said Bush did not offer any new U.S. initiatives in the Middle East.

To Attend Funeral

On his first overseas journey as President, Bush will attend the funeral Friday of Japanese Emperor Hirohito, who died of cancer Jan. 7 at the age of 87.

Bush today held private talks with a handful of other world leaders, including French President Francois Mitterrand, Portuguese Prime Minister Mario Soares, Japanese Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita and Prime Minister Chatichai Choonhavan of Thailand.

It was Bush's talks with Hussein, Mubarak and Herzog that provided a counterpoint to the 10-day trip through the Middle East by Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze, who is trying to advance Moscow's role in the region.

Baker said "it's healthy, quite frankly, that the Soviet Union would be interested in contributing to the cause of peace in the Middle East."

'Rhetorical Exercises'

He added: "I suppose we would want to know that there were concrete contributions that they have in mind, rather than simply rhetorical exercises."

Challenging Moscow to "contribute in a concrete way," Baker said the Soviet Union should establish full diplomatic relations with Israel and "cease its support of radical countries in the Middle East region such as Libya."

He said Moscow also could exercise influence with Syria.

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