Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy said Thursday that he has obtained new assurances that the Bush Administration will not try to revive the moribund Middle East peace process with an initiative that would take Israel by surprise.
Talking to reporters after a two-hour meeting with Secretary of State James A. Baker III, Levy said he received a promise that "Israel will not be surprised by any new development not acceptable to us beforehand."
That would seem to make it even more difficult for the Administration to find a way out of the procedural tangle that has frustrated President Bush's hope of capitalizing on the defeat of Iraq in the Persian Gulf War to bring Israel and its Arab adversaries to the negotiating table.
Levy was sent to Washington to explain Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir's rejection of Bush's latest attempt to break the impasse. Although both Levy and State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said the meeting was amiable, there were no breakthroughs.
"Neither man brought new ideas," a senior Administration official said.
On his way into the meeting, Baker said he has no plans to return to the Middle East to continue trying to hammer out the rules for a peace conference to be co-sponsored by the United States and the Soviet Union and attended by Israel, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and the Palestinians. Baker has visited the region four times since the war ended in March.
Baker also was asked about an Israeli press report that Bush is considering inviting Middle East foreign ministers to a conference at Camp David, Md. He said that no such proposal is under consideration.
But Tutwiler said later that Baker was only ruling out a meeting of foreign ministers at Camp David. She said the President retains the option of calling a conference at some other site. Backers of that proposal say that if the United States scheduled a conference--even if there is no agreement on rules and procedures--the Israelis and the Arabs would have to attend because it would be too dangerous to stay away.
Despite the continuing impasse, both Levy and Tutwiler insisted that the U.S. effort will continue.
"We can declare that the process is not stuck," Levy said.
Nevertheless, Levy said Israel will not attend any conference unless it is given the right to veto members of the Palestinian delegation whom it considers to be too close to the Palestine Liberation Organization.
"Israel will not sit with those it does not want to sit down with," he said. "It will not be forced to sit with those it refuses to sit with. On this point, there are a number of understandings about which I do not intend to go into details between the United States and Israel."