US and Russia call for new set of Mid-East talks

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The Independent Online
PUTTING fresh pressure on the Palestinians and their Arab partners to end their boycott of the peace talks until the deportee issue is resolved, the United States and Russia, co-sponsors of the negotiations, last night issued invitations to all parties for a new round in April.

The announcement was made by the co-sponsors in Geneva on the day after the US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, had completed several round of talks in Jerusalem.

Mr Christopher's decision to issue the invitations so soon after leaving Jerusalem suggests that he has strong reason to believe all sides will accept despite the lack of any signficant new compromise on the deportees from Israel. Nearly 400 Palestinians, deported by Israel in December, are still camping in a south Lebanon no- man's land, demanding to return to their homes. Mr Rabin has so far offered early return to only 101.

Three of the four Arab partners, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, have indicated that they are eager to resume the talks without a full resolution of the deportee problem. In Brussels, the Syrian Foreign Minister yesterday re-emphasised Syria's conciliatory tone, saying that it was in the interests of all parties to resume the Middle East peace talks.

The issuing of the invitations will put particular pressure on the Palestinians, who have been strongest in their resolve to hold out. Even the Palestinians, however, showed new signs during Mr Christopher's visit that proposals made by the US might make it possible for an end to the boycott. The expectation in Jerusalem last night was that they, too, would accept the invitations, despite their fears that they are being steamrollered.

News that the sponsors were to issue invitations came as Palestinian leaders in Jerusalem and Tunis were formulating their response to the US compromise proposals placed before them during Mr Christopher's Jerusalem visit. It was clear yesterday that the US proposals fell short of the Palestinians' reduced demands.

Whereas Hanan Ashrawi, the Palestinian spokeswoman, had demanded a commitment from Israel that mass deportation be declared illegal and would not be carried out again, the compromise proposal presented by the US, and agreed to by Israel, simply spoke of the limited conditions under which deportations could happen.

Some signs of division did open up in the Palestinian camp yesterday when a PLO spokesman in Tunis said the situation remained at 'zero point'. However, the peace delegation in Jerusalem then issued a counter-statement saying that Mr Christopher's proposals would potentially contribute to solving the impasse.

It is the delegation members in Jerusalem who are under most pressure to refuse to return to the talks because of opposition in the streets. If they decide that there is a way to go back, it is unlikely that the PLO in Tunis will ultimately refuse.