Secretary of State George P. Shultz said yesterday he expected U.S. officials would meet "fairly soon" with a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation but ruled out talks with the Palestine Liberation Organization until it publicly recognizes Israel's right to exist.
Shultz also made clear at a press conference focused on King Hussein's visit that the United States and Jordan still disagree fundamentally about the value of any new Arab-Israeli peace talks under the auspices of an international conference that the Soviet Union would attend.
"We continue to believe that the proposed international conference will not contribute to the peace process," he said in an opening statement. "But we will continue to seek ways in which international support for direct negotiations can be made evident."
Altogether, the Jordanian monarch's four-day visit here stirred new hopes but also considerable confusion over whether any real progress was being made toward resuming Middle East peace talks.
One U.S. official summed up the ambiguity of the visit by saying that it had been "very successful" in terms of the various "declaratory statements" by the king regarding his own and the PLO's readiness for direct talks with Israel, but not so successful "on the substantive side."
Indeed, the monarch refused to say any "breakthrough" had been made and the secretary noted continuing "obstacles."
Shultz said that despite the king's repeated statements here that PLO leader Yasser Arafat had now formally accepted U.N. Resolutions 242 and 338 as a basis for negotiations, "we will wait for a direct statement from the PLO" before agreeing to negotiate with the organization.
"I think it has to be where we can see it and the American people can see it," he said.
But Shultz did say he thought "a little headway" had been made toward agreement on a meeting between a U.S. delegation led by Assistant Secretary of State Richard Murphy and a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation to discuss a peace conference.
"I would expect that this is something that, if we can, we would like to put in place fairly soon," he remarked, adding later, "assuming that we can put together the right structure of a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation."
Sources close to the Jordanian delegation said the United States and Jordan still disagreed which Palestinians should be included. The Jordanians reportedly are still pushing for the inclusion of several PLO members, including Mohamed Milhelm, the former mayor of Halhoul on the West Bank who last year became a member of the PLO Executive Committee.
The Jordanians were understood to be arguing that Palestinian members of the delegation who would meet with Murphy would not necessarily be the same as those later participating in the peace talks and that the United States should therefore show more flexibility toward the former.
Foreign Minister Taher Masri is staying on to discuss the makeup of that delegation with U.S. officials.
Earlier, in a speech sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute, Hussein called the PLO's reported explicit endorsement of U.N. Resolution 242 -- which sets forth the principle of a return of Arab land seized in war in exchange for Arab recognition of Israel -- "an historic breakthrough." He said it was the first time PLO leaders had been willing to accept a peaceful, negotiated settlement.
The king reiterated that all five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and all parties to the conflict, including the Soviet Union and the PLO, should participate in a peace conference. But he later indicated he regarded this primarily as "an opportunity to negotiate directly, negotiations between the parties to the conflict."
U.S. and Arab analysts said this was the first time the king had publicly mentioned direct negotiations with Israel even though it has been assumed for some time that this was his goals.