Secretary of State James A. Baker III, saying he wants to "try and reengage" Israel on the Middle East peace process, announced yesterday that he has invited the new Israeli foreign minister, David Levy, to meet with him in Europe in 10 days.
The meeting would be the first between senior U.S. and Israeli officials since an exchange of letters between President Bush and Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir over the stalled effort to begin talks between Israel and Palestinians. The Bush administration has been expressing frustration over what it views as Israel's intransigence in the peace effort.
Levy, who became foreign minister three weeks ago when Shamir formed a new rightist government, recently suffered a heart attack and has been recuperating. Baker dispatched his invitation to Levy from Brussels last week and it was delivered to the foreign minister by U.S. Ambassador to Israel William Brown, administration officials said.
Levy expressed a willingness, if his health permits, to accept Baker's invitation and meet him July 18 and 19 in Paris, where Baker will be attending the German unification talks, the officials said.
The invitation, which Baker announced in an interview on CNN, follows a period of tension in U.S.-Israel relations over the prospects for peace talks. In testimony before Congress last month, Baker bluntly warned Shamir that unless his new government would make the compromises necessary to open a dialogue with Palestinians, the United States would halt efforts to restart the peace process. Baker said, "When you're serious about peace, call us," and gave the White House phone number.
Baker's comments were followed by a letter from Bush to Shamir questioning the prime minister about his willingness to move forward with a plan to open talks between Palestinians and Israel. The plan, proposed by Shamir more than a year ago, called for talks between Israel and Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip to arrange elections that would give the Palestinians a period of limited self-government. But the peace effort stalled over the composition of a Palestinian delegation.
Baker said Shamir's recent response to Bush was not a definitive rejection of the peace effort. It left some U.S. officials looking for possible flexibility.
On other topics, Baker, interviewed in Houston where Bush is preparing to open the summit of the major western industrial democracies on Monday, said that the United States would continue to oppose direct aid to the Soviet Union. "Before we send taxpayer dollars" to help Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, he said, the United States requires some "reasonable idea" the money will be "well spent."
Baker said he was "a little surprised" by Gorbachev's statement at the 28th Communist Party Congress setting a two-year deadline on achieving some improvement in the Soviet economy. "Clearly, there must be progress toward economic reform in the Soviet Union . . . within the reasonably foreseeable future," he said.
Baker said other nations that want to send direct economic aid to the Soviet Union should be free to do so. "Countries that want to do that should do that," he said, adding that the leaders will probably agree in Houston on sending "technical" economic aid to Moscow.