CAIRO — Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres pledged Friday to try to convene an international peace conference on the Mideast before the end of this year.
A joint statement issued at the conclusion of two days of talks between Mubarak and Peres emphasized that the purpose of the international conference would be to set the stage for direct peace negotiations among Egypt, Israel, Jordan and some form of yet-to-be-determined Palestinian representation.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Esmat Abdel Meguid, reading the statement to reporters before Peres flew home to Israel, said the two sides are "convinced there is a need to undertake necessary measures to expedite the peace process and produce an agreement through the convening in 1987 of an international conference leading to direct negotiations between all the parties concerned."
The suggestion that the controversial and much-discussed peace conference should be convened this year appeared to be the most important new element to emerge from Peres' 48-hour visit to Egypt. However, Western diplomats and other analysts cautioned that there may be much less to the agreement than meets the eye.
For one thing, since Egypt and Israel are already at peace, the agreement means nothing without the consent of Jordan's King Hussein, who has been insisting on an international conference. Egypt has been mediating between Israel and Jordan, but it was not immediately clear from the announcement if enough progress had been made during the Peres visit to satisfy the Jordanian monarch, who is on a skiing vacation in Austria.
There was no indication, for instance, if any progress had been made toward resolving specific differences holding up an agreement on the peace conference. These include who should represent the Palestinians and the role of the international participants, which would most likely include the Soviet Union.
'List of Difficulties'
Peres, who had earlier spoken of "new ideas" raised in his talks with Mubarak on these issues, said before leaving that "we went over the list of difficulties again and noted some opportunities that will be (explored) in the near future."
Meguid, answering questions, was equally vague when asked if Egypt still believed that the Palestine Liberation Organization should represent the Palestinians at the peace conference.
"The Palestinians are the only people who can decide who can represent them," he said. "First, they have to agree among themselves, and then the other parties have to agree."
But while Peres said the PLO has "excluded itself" from the peace process through its refusal thus far to formally recognize Israel's right to exist, Meguid said "we cannot and should not start excluding or separating parties" from the peace process.
Another problem that gave Friday's agreement to work toward the convening of a peace conference this year a hypothetical ring is Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir's total rejection of the idea of an international umbrella for the talks.
Indeed, Shamir has all but disowned Peres' visit to Egypt, declaring that the foreign minister has "no mandate to negotiate anything" concerning a Middle East peace conference.
Asked about these differences, Peres said "they will be ironed out back home."
According to Israeli analysts, the assumption underlying Friday's joint communique is that Peres at a future date will pull his centrist Labor Alignment out of the coalition government with Shamir's right-wing Likud Bloc and force early elections in the hopes of returning to power in his own right. But if that does not happen, whatever was decided in Cairo this week is likely to be academic.
There was one concrete, if small, result emerging from the visit, however. Seven years after they established diplomatic relations, Egypt and Israel finally inaugurated direct-dial telephone service between their countries, prompting one Israeli traveling in Peres' party to quip that "we got a direct line even if we didn't get direct talks."