King Hussein of Jordan outlined a complicated proposal to administration officials last week for a direct meeting soon between the United States and the Palestine Liberation Organization as part of a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation.
The king envisions a four-stage process leading to new direct Arab-Israeli peace talks, Jordanian Foreign Minister Taher Masri told Washington Post reporters and editors yesterday.
The first step would be a preliminary session between the United States and a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation excluding any PLO representatives.
Next, Hussein told the administration, PLO leader Yasser Arafat is ready to make a formal declaration of readiness to recognize and negotiate with Israel, but wants a U.S. concession in return. The United States has refused to meet with the PLO until it recognizes Israel's right to exist.
As the concession, Jordan has asked Washington to state publicly that it supports "self-determination" for the Palestinians within the context of a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation that the king and Arafat agreed upon in a Feb. 11 joint statement.
Details of this proposed exchange of statements between the United States and the PLO would be the main topic of the first meeting now being arranged between Assistant Secretary of State Richard W. Murphy and a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation.
The United States would then hold a second meeting with a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation that would include PLO officials. Participants would discuss the details for an international conference under which direct Arab-Israeli negotiations would take place, according to the Jordanian scenario.
The conference and then direct negotiations, which Masri suggested would get under way almost immediately, would constitute the third and fourth steps of the plan.
"Of course, we have no answer yet from Washington and we think this will be discussed in that first trilateral meeting," he said of the Jordanian idea for two preliminary meetings.
Masri said Jordan and the United States have agreed on the criteria for the Palestinians who would attend the first preliminary meeting. He said Arafat was informed of them Monday and that the PLO would now have to choose other Palestinians than those it has suggested and had been rejected by the United States.
The U.S.-dictated criteria were understood to include naming Palestinians who are neither PLO members nor ranking Palestine National Council officials. Secretary of State George P. Shultz said as much last week, and spoke of including Palestinians who are "truly dedicated to nonviolent, negotiated solutions" and "ready to strive for peace with Israel."
The Jordanian plan, spelled out later at a press luncheon, was the first time any Jordanian official has publicly explained how Hussein presently envisages the peace process.
Masri was optimistic about the prospects for starting new Arab-Israeli talks. "I feel the atmosphere is the same as before the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's trip to Jerusalem . . . . Something is going to happen, a breakthrough is approaching," he said.
At the same time, Masri was perturbed by the resolution introduced in the Senate Tuesday with 67 signers calling upon the administration not to sell Jordan any arms until it enters direct talks with Israel.
"It's not fair what they are doing, especially at this time when we are showing by all possible ways that we want peace. We are talking about peace, about negotiations," he said.
"Why do you want people in the Middle East saying, and they are saying it, 'Look what they did to the Shah. Look what they did to Lebanon's President Amin Gemayel. Look what they are doing to you.' "
Later, at the press luncheon, Masri said he understood that Arafat was "about to accept" the U.S. criteria of selecting Palestinians who are neither PLO members nor important officials of the Palestine National Council.
Last Friday, Shultz said he expects the first meeting to take place "fairly soon." Masri said he thought it could come "within four to six weeks" but was hesitant to be more specific for fear of raising false expectations.