Bush Wants Moroccan King as Go-Between for Peace Talks
WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush and King Hassan II of Morocco today pledged to work together to achieve an Arab-Israeli peace pact and ensure what Bush called ″legitimate political rights for the Palestinian people.″
″We now see the real prospect of a peace conference leading to direct negotiations between Arabs and Israelis,″ Bush said in welcoming remarks during the arrival ceremony for Hassan on the White House south grounds.
While Bush expressed optimism for the chances of achieving a peace conference, Hassan told the president during their talks that Israel poses a problem, a U.S. spokesman said.
Hassan also told Bush that he consulted in New York this weekend with countries involved in the Middle East peace process on the appropriate role that should be played by the five north African nations of the Maghreb region, said Frederick Vreeland, deputy assistant secretary of state.
Hassan ″gave his very personal opinion that the Israelis were going to represent a difficulty in the peace process,″ Vreeland told reporters after the meeting.
Bush however, told the king, ″I am not as pessimistic as you are,″ said Vreeland. ″He said we will press on. We are determined to go all the way with this peace process.″
Bush reiterated in his welcoming remarks the underpinnings of the peace effort, including United Nations resolutions calling for Israel to return occupied territories ″and the principle of territory for peace.″
″We seek to elaborate on this principle to provide for real security and real peace for all states in the Middle East, including Israel, and for recognition of legitimate political rights of the Palestinian people,″ Bush said to applause from the Moroccan visitors attemdomg the arrival ceremony.
″I look forward to working with you toward those objectives,″ he told the king.
Hassan said ″We shall ever be ready to contribute to any peaceful solution″ in the Middle East.
Bush also thanked the king for Morocco’s participation in the U.S.-led coalition against Iraq in the Persian Gulf War and lauded his acquiescence to a United Nations referendum plan on the status of the Western Sahara part of Morocco.
U.S. officials had said they anticipated much of today’s discussion between the two leaders would center on efforts to work through Hassan, a close American ally, in pressing Middle East leaders to sign on to the U.S.-sponsored peace talks.
Bush and Secretary of State James A. Baker III, who stopped to see Hassan in Rabat last month, have tried to enlist the king’s help in bringing the Palestinians to the table and working with other Arab leaders.
Palestine Liberation Organization leaders today dropped their insistence on naming the Palestinian delegation to the proposed peace talks and supported joining Jordanian negotiators, senior PLO officials said.
The reported move by the Palestine Liberation Organization could remove one of the last major obstacles to Palestinian participation in the U.S.-brokered conference, tentatively planned for next month.
Hassan’s help also is considered valuable because he has the ″best credentials with Israel″ in the Arab world, along with Egypt, said an official who briefed reporters Wednesday on condition of anonymity.
Hassan in the past has sought to bridge differences between Arabs and Israelis and is considered a valuable channel to the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Baker on his trip invited Morocco to be an observer during Arab-Israeli negotiations and to participate when such regional issues as water resources and the proliferation of weapons are taken up.
The Bush administration has been trying to persuade Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians to sit down for an October peace conference geared toward ending their centuries-old enmity.
Hassan also wanted to discuss the pending United Nations referendum for independence of the Western Sahara region of Morocco, said the official who briefed reporters.
Morocco claims sovereignty over the Western Sahara but he has agreed to the U.N. secretary-general’s plan to hold a referendum there in January to determine whether it will be independent.
The United States backs the referendum plan, the official said.
The official described Morocco as the United States’ ″oldest and most loyal friend,″ which in 1777 was the first country to recognize this country’s independence.
During the Persian Gulf crisis and war last winter, the North African country was one of the early nations to commit troops to join the U.S.-led coalition fighting Iraq.
Bush’s invitation to Hassan to visit Washington was in part a gesture of gratitude for that support, officials said.
This is the king’s fourth visit to the United States, but his first during Bush’s presidency.