JERUSALEM, JUNE 28 -- Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir has dispatched a letter to President Bush in which he rejects U.S. proposals for Israeli-Palestinian talks and argues that the central problem of the Middle East conflict is the refusal of Arab states to negotiate with Israel, officials here said today.

The letter, which represents the first high-level communication with Washington by Shamir's new right-wing government, basically confirms the impasse between Israel and the United States on a range of issues, officials said. High-level sources said they expected the message would not be received well in Washington and predicted that U.S.-Israeli relations would remain tense.

The lengthy policy statement was drafted in response to a letter from Bush to Shamir earlier this month requesting specific Israeli positions on a range of issues, officials said. Shamir's letter, sent from Jerusalem to Washington overnight, was delivered to the White House today.

"The questions are answered, but whether the answers will satisfy the Americans is another question," said a senior source. "Personally, I doubt it very much."

{Secretary of State James A. Baker III said Shamir's letter is not a "definitive" rejection of U.S proposals for a Middle East peace process, staff writer David Hoffman reported in Washington.

{"It's not a simple issue, black and white," Baker said of the 12-page cable. Although officials in Israel described the Shamir letter as a rejection of the U.S. conditions for peace talks, Baker, after conferring with Bush, portrayed the letter as more ambiguous, saying it required further study.

{"If the letter was absolutely definitive, we wouldn't need to study it," Baker told reporters at a White House briefing.

{Asked if he was optimistic, Baker said, "There are elements of it that are on both sides of that equation." He refused to be more specific about contents of the letter.}

Israeli officials said the letter specifies that Israel will not accept the terms for a convening of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations formulated by Baker earlier this year. The letter says Israel rejects the U.S. proposal that the Palestinian delegation include at least one Arab activist deported from the Israeli-occupied West Bank or Gaza Strip, as well as a representative of Arab East Jerusalem.

Israel objects to talking to a delegation that would include a deportee because it believes such a delegate would be a symbolic representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization, with which it refuses to negotiate. It refuses to permit a representative from East Jerusalem because it wants to prevent Israel's claim to the city as its capital from becoming an issue in negotiations. Israel's claim to Jerusalem is not accepted by either the Palestinians or any foreign government.

On another sensitive issue, the letter reiterates Shamir's position that, while the government will not encourage immigrating Soviet Jews to settle in the occupied territories, it will not prevent them from doing so.

The letter says that new Jewish settlements in the territories are not the government's priority, but it does not offer any assurance that settlement will be stopped. Further, it disputes the U.S. contention that the communities are an "obstacle to peace."

The document also advances the argument that the failure of Arab states to negotiate with Israel -- and not the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- is the chief obstacle to peace in the Middle East.

Expanding on what has become a central theme of the new government, Shamir says that the United States should seek to persuade such Arab countries as Syria to open bilateral negotiations with Israel as a first step in a renewed peace process.

The letter does not rule out further negotiations among Israel, the United States and Egypt over the convening of talks with the Palestinians and says Israel is willing to negotiate the composition of a Palestinian delegation on a "name by name" basis.

However, Israeli insistence on excluding Palestinians in Jerusalem or outside the territories from the negotiations eliminates the fragile common ground that Egypt and the United States sought to create last year between the Israeli and Palestinian positions on talks. Shamir's stout resistance to Baker's terms caused the breakdown of his previous centrist coalition government in March, triggering a three-month political crisis that ended with formation of the present alliance of right-wing and religious parties. The new coalition is dependent on extreme nationalists who oppose any dialogue with the Palestinians.

Despite the Israeli government's shift to the right, the United States has continued to insist that Shamir formally respond to the Baker plan, and Bush's letter reiterated the demand for specific answers, officials said.

"The Bush letter was very tough," said one official here who has seen it. "The Americans are demanding very clear-cut and specific responses on specific issues -- a 'yes' or 'no.'

"If they are going to insist that the dialogue between Israel and the United States be based on this either-or basis, there are going to be more problems."