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Jordan Agrees to Israel Talks, Sources Say : Deal Conditional on Jerusalem Accepting U.S.-Brokered Plan

May 02, 1987|DAN FISHER | Times Staff Writer

JERUSALEM — Jordan has agreed to bilateral peace negotiations with Israel in the context of an international Middle East conference, provided the Israeli government formally approves a U.S.-brokered framework for the talks worked out after months of shuttle diplomacy, government sources said here Friday.

The all-important conference guidelines are embodied in what one official termed a "document of understanding" that is also said to have the tacit approval of Egypt. The document reportedly agrees in all important points with a so-called 10-point plan for a peace conference proposed some time ago by Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.

However, sources here cautioned that several hurdles remain before any peace conference can begin. Also, the degree of alleged agreement on other critical points--particularly the terms of Palestinian participation in the talks--was not entirely clear.

Not Yet Signed

"It's not a contract that's been signed," said a senior government official who briefed foreign reporters on condition that he not be identified. "We're still in the process of shaping it up."

According to Peres and U.S. officials, the latest developments represent major progress in the long-stalled Middle East peace process, whose only notable success to date was the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty.

Peres' principal political adviser, Nimrod Novik, referred in a radio interview earlier this week to a "breakthrough."

However, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir has repeatedly said that an international conference would be a disaster in which this country would come under enormous pressure to give up occupied land on the West Bank of the Jordan River, which he and his rightist political allies consider an inseparable part of "greater Israel."

Uneasy Coalition

Shamir's Likud Bloc is joined with Peres' centrist Labor Alignment in an uneasy "national unity" coalition government as the result of inconclusive elections in July, 1984. The next elections are not scheduled until late 1988, and both sides said Friday that they would prefer not to break up the government over the peace conference issue.

But Peres, who served as prime minister during the first half of the unity government's term, has threatened to do just that if Shamir blocks the peace plan.

A senior government official said Friday that Peres will bring the "document of understanding" to a vote of the so-called "inner Cabinet" of 10 senior government ministers, possibly as early as next Wednesday.

Another senior source said, however, that Peres is not likely to act until late May or early June, after he returns from a scheduled trip to the United States.

The inner Cabinet is evenly divided between Likud and Labor ministers, and if Peres' proposal should result in a tie vote, it would mean his defeat. In that case, he has said, he will "go to the people" in new elections that would amount to this country's first referendum ever on the divisive issue of the future of the West Bank.

Ploy to End Government

Sources close to Shamir charge that Peres is only using the international conference issue as a ploy to break up the government. While the results of public opinion polls concerning a peace conference vary according to the way in which the questions are asked, the latest surveys do show Peres' Labor Alignment gaining strength.

A Jerusalem Post poll this week, for example, suggested that Labor would get 41% of the vote if new elections were held today, compared with only 24% for Likud. In 1984, Labor got 35% and Likud 32%.

The balance of the voters opted for one of a dozen smaller parties, with whom Peres would have to negotiate if he should succeed in heading a new, narrow coalition government.

It is still possible that either Peres or Shamir will back away from a confrontation. The two men are expected to meet Sunday on the conference issue.

Shamir Under Pressure

Shamir is clearly under mounting pressure to agree to an international conference. Returning from a state visit to France on Thursday evening, he admitted that he had been unsuccessful in attempts to dissuade French officials who have come out in favor of the plan.

On Friday, he met for the third time in a little over a week with U.S. Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering. Neither man spoke to reporters following their session, but in unusual public comments regarding the peace process earlier this week, the American envoy said: "I think it is fair to say there has been some recent, very significant progress made. I think it is important, and I think there is a quickening of interest in the region that I see on both the Arab side and here in Israel."

Shamir has also confirmed that President Reagan has urged him to explore the international conference idea rather than pass up a "historic opportunity" for progress toward Middle East peace.

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