JERUSALEM — Top Egyptian and Jordanian officials have urged during an unprecedented series of talks with American Jewish Congress leaders that the Reagan Administration "put (the PLO) to the test" by agreeing to meet a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation, three of the American participants said here Wednesday.
The Arab officials, including Jordan's King Hussein and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, "broadly hinted" that if Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat still failed after the meeting to recognize Israel and renounce terrorism, they would be ready to seek a broader peace with Israel without PLO participation, the American Jewish Congress leaders added.
"There is indeed a genuine desire on the part of both President Mubarak and King Hussein to move ahead with the peace process," Theodore Mann, president of the 50,000-member American Jewish Congress, told a press conference here.
"This is not contrived, it is not part of some conspiracy, it is a genuine desire that they have because they understand that if progress is not made quickly, whatever possibilities exist may disappear," he added.
Mann, co-chairman Henry Rosovsky, and the organization's executive director, Henry Siegman, spoke to newsmen immediately after reporting on their talks to Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres.
Mann denied reports in the Israeli press that the 20-person American Jewish Congress delegation had journeyed to Cairo last Thursday and to Amman on Monday against Israeli government objections.
The trip was described as a "fact-finding" mission, and congress officials said it was the first time an American Jewish organization has gone to Jordan and met with the king. The delegation also met with a number of other government officials in both Jordan and Egypt.
"Everybody we talked to insisted that an element of the PLO, Yasser Arafat in particular, was becoming more moderate and held potential for becoming still more moderate and that they wanted to test that," Mann said.
He said the Arab leaders stressed the importance of the proposed talks between the United States and a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation because they would include "the clear promise" that afterward Arafat will recognize Israel's right to exist.
"We got a sense that if the PLO does not make those statements, they (the Arab leaders) might then be prepared to drop the PLO," said Rosovsky. "That was, I would say, broadly hinted to us."
The Jewish leaders sidestepped questions about their own reactions to the Arab leaders' urgings.
One More Test for PLO
"I must say the PLO has had the opportunity to be tested for more years than I care to count," Mann said. However, he added, "the judgment as to whether it would hinder the peace process or advance the peace process to let them be put to the test one more time is an exquisitely difficult judgment that governments ought to make, not people like myself."
"It is the view of the delegation that the burden of action now is not with the Israeli government" but with the Arabs, Siegman said. And in a formal statement, the congress leaders expressed regret that so far Egyptian and Jordanian officials have failed to engage in "face-to-face negotiations" with Peres' government.
Hussein and Arafat agreed last February to a "joint framework" for peace that envisaged an eventual confederation between Jordan and the Palestinians on the West Bank. Israel has occupied the West Bank of the Jordan River since the 1967 Six-Day War.
Both Jordan and Egypt have urged a meeting between the United States and a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation as a starting point for peace talks. But attempts to organize such a meeting have run into several roadblocks.
Israel flatly opposes anything but direct peace talks between itself and a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation that does not include any PLO members, whom they denounce as terrorists.
Israeli leaders contend that a recent surge in terrorist attacks here is directly linked to the rapprochement between Hussein and Arafat and have warned the king that the alliance only hinders the prospects for a broader peace.
Washington takes a slightly more flexible view than Israel on possible talks with a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation, but it insists it will only agree to such a meeting if it is clear at the outset that the object is to prepare the way for direct talks with Israel. Also, the United States has pledged to Israel that it will not meet declared PLO members unless they first recognize Israel and renounce terrorism.
Failed to Bridge Gap
Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Richard W. Murphy last visited the region in August, in an unsuccessful effort to bridge the gap between the Israeli and Arab position on new talks.
There were reports he might return later this month, but in a meeting with Peres earlier this week U.S. Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering reportedly said no new Murphy shuttle is now expected in the coming weeks.
The congress leaders said they would receive "mixed signals" on the possible impact on the peace process if the Murphy mission failed.
"In Egypt, particularly, we were told very categorically that Egypt will not give up the process of widening the peace no matter what happens, and if one avenue is closed they will resort to other avenues even if they cannot at the moment specifically identify them," Siegman said.
"It is my impression that in Jordan we did not receive that kind of categorical assurance," he added. "In Jordan, they tried to impress us with the fact that the king cannot move without the umbrella of the PLO, and if this were not to work out, the king was very pessimistic about possible progress."