US envoy to reopen Mid East talks

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The Independent Online
PRESIDENT Bill Clinton is sending the US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, to the Middle East to try to get the suspended peace talks under way again.

The main obstacle to resuming the talks is the continuing crisis over the deportation of some 400 Palestinians by Israel on 17 December, which has not died away despite an agreement between the US and Israel for 100 to return now and the rest before the end of the year.

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators said yesterday that peace talks were unlikely to resume before April because of the row over the deportations.

'It is an indication of the priority my administration attaches to the peace-making in the the Middle East,' Mr Clinton said about the dispatch of Mr Christopher, adding that the chances of peace could disappear all too easily. He said Mr Christopher would also discuss Iraq and other Middle East issues.

President Clinton went out of his way to emphasise his pledge to maintain continuity in the Arab- Israeli peace negotiations that he inherited from President Bush. The new administration has been eager not to be seen as failing to capitalise on the negotiations.

Mr Christopher will arrive in Israel on 17 February, after seeing Palestinian leaders and visiting Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. The Palestine Liberation Organisation and the Palestinian delegation to the peace talks have rejected the compromise on the deportees and demanded that they all be allowed to return to Israel.

At the United Nations in New York the bilateral agreement between the US and Israel, disregarding the Security Council, has been criticised by UN members. France, Britain and Russia have all said that the Israeli action does not, as Mr Christopher said earlier in the week, amount to full compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 799.

The US-Israeli deal is disliked by other Council members because it continues the decades- long tradition of Israel dealing directly with Washington and cutting out the UN. 'The UN has changed radically. By disregarding the Council the Israelis lost an opportunity to respond to the changes,' said one member of the Council.

There is also a feeling that the compromise on the number of deportees returning undermines Israel's position that all were members of the Islamic resistance movement, Hamas. The Russian ambassador, Yuli Vorontsov, said: 'There is no reason that 100 could return and 300 could stay. That absolutely destroys the logic of the Israeli position.'

But despite these misgivings, there is no support for trying to apply sanctions to Israel for failure to obey the UN resolution.