Israel and its neighbors "are very close" to convening Middle East peace talks under the auspices of the United Nations "and yet terribly short of time," Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said Monday.
The resolve of both the United States and Israel to pursue a Mideast peace is likely be diverted by their 1988 elections, he warned.
In a Los Angeles news conference and a speech to the World Affairs Council of Los Angeles, Peres repeated a theme that he has invoked for months: Successful arms negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union, combined with the cooperative attitude of Egypt and Jordan, have set the stage for an international Mideast peace conference, to be called by the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council--Britain, France, China, the United States and the Soviet Union.
"There are so many factors moving in the direction of peace," said Peres, who is scheduled to fly to New York to address the U.N. General Assembly today. "I know today we are as close to meaningful negotiations as ever before."
However, he added, "if nothing shall happen in the next three or four months, we shall face a long interruption. . . . If we should miss the boat this time, God knows when we will get another opportunity."
Jordanian, Egyptian and U.S. officials reached agreements during the summer on key points for the international peace conference, which would include participation by Palestinians as part of a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation. The prime obstacle remains the opposition of Peres' partners in Israel's coalition government, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and the Likud Bloc that he leads.
Fears New Flare-up
Peres, who has been attempting to engineer earlier elections in his country in the hopes that a new government will emerge that favors the peace conference, said he is worried not only about the effect of American and Israeli domestic politics but also another flare-up of hostilities in Lebanon or an unanticipated turn in the Iran-Iraq War.
The momentum toward a peace conference is so fragile that "a disappointment . . . can easily take over," he said.
The State Department said Monday that Secretary of State George P. Shultz will be visiting the Middle East next month before his trip to Moscow for talks with his Soviet counterpart, Eduard A. Shevardnadze.
Peres met last week in the United States with Soviet Foreign Minister Shevardnadze amid reports that the two countries may be close to concluding an agreement for low-level relations after a break of 20 years.
Peres called the meeting "very businesslike" but would be no more specific than saying, "I didn't collect too many das but neither did I collect a single nyet " as the two men discussed Soviet participation in the Mideast talks, emigration of Soviet Jews and future relations between the two countries.
Peres said he believes that progress in the U.S.-Soviet arms control talks have "contributed very much to this air of openness and understanding" that he found with Shevardnadze. He said he believes the U.S. decision to escort Kuwaiti tankers through the Persian Gulf has shown that the Soviets do not have the military capacity to match the United States in the gulf and that in response they are "looking for diplomatic alternatives."
Compared to all past meetings between Israel and the Soviet Union, he said, "this was by far one of the most interesting ones."