Clinton seeks to move Mideast peace process



WASHINGTON (AP)—President Clinton engaged in a flurry of personal diplomacy Wednesday in an effort to keep the momentum going in the Middle East peace process.

Presidential Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers said that Clinton placed telephone calls to Syrian President Hafez Assad, Jordan’s King Hussein and British Prime Minister John Major on his way to and from a New Orleans speech to promote the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Myers said that in each case Clinton was exploring ways to make sure that the historic breakthrough between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization leads to further achievements toward lasting peace in the Middle East.

In a 40-minute coversation with Assad, Clinton urged the Syrian leader to help curb opposition to the pact by political extremists, said an administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Earlier in the day, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak accused Syria during a radio broadcast of talking peace while harboring radical Palestinian and Islamic fundmentalist groups opposed to the pact.

Clinton ‘‘said that it was essential to push forward on that accord and to reject the extremists on both sides of the issue that seek to undermine the agreement,’‘ said the official.

The official said Clinton indicated that support by Damascus would help strenghthen the ability of Israel’s government to negotiate with Syria. Israel has signalled a willingness to negotiate a withdrawal on the Golan Heights, territory it occupied in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Clinton informed Hussein during a 10 minute telephone call that he had issued a waiver that will unfreeze close to $30 million in U.S. foreign aid to Jordan for the current fiscal year, said administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The money had been appropriated by Congress but its distribution required a waiver from the president. The restriction was passed following the Persian Gulf War when members of Congress were unhappy with the initial refusal of Jordan to go along with the economic embargo against Iraq.

In his call to Assad, Myers quoted Clinton as saying, ‘‘I really believe we have a chance now to continue through toward a comprehensive peace. I very much want to see an agreement between Israel and Syria and I want to emphasize my personal commitment to making progress on all fronts of the peace process.’‘

Administration officials have stressed that Clinton feels it is very important to follow-up on the successful signing of the Israel-PLO peace accord and Tuesday’s agreement between Israel and Jordan on an agenda for peace negotiations with movement on other issues, particularly the dispute between Israel and Syria.

But so far there have been no public signals from Syria. The Syrian ambassador attended Monday’s White House signing ceremony on orders from Assad after a personal appeal from Clinton.

Myers said that Clinton thanked Assad during their telephone call for agreeing to send a representative to the White House ceremony.

She said that Clinton told Assad that he was enthusiastic about the momentum currently building in the peace process.

Myers said that in his call to Jordan’s Hussein, Clinton offered congratulations for the decision of Jordan and Israel to initial an agenda for peace talks between the two countries.

Former President Bush had signed a similar waiver last year. The Clinton administration official said that Clinton’s action was ‘‘not totally unrelated’‘ to Jordan’s recent peace initiative with Israel.

In the call to Major, Clinton told the British prime minister that the Western allies needed to do everything possible to make the Israeli-PLO agreement succeed, Myers said.

She also said the two leaders discussed the situation in Bosnia and also the demands by the French to re-open the so-called Blair House agreement. That deal, reached last year between the United States and the 12-nation European Community, provided a timetable for cutting farm subsidies.

Myers said that Clinton told Major if the agreement was renegotiated it would make it extremely difficult to conclude the long-stalled Uruguay Round of trade talks by the Dec. 15 called for in U.S. legislation.