U.S. weighs Palestine peace talks


UNITED NATIONS -- The United States is considering whether to accept a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for an international peace conference to solve festering conflicts between Israel and Palestinian residents of the occupied territories.

While the idea of such a meeting is not new, its possible inclusion in a U.N. resolution at this time would mark a major step by the Bush administration away from Israel just days before Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir is scheduled to meet with President Bush in Washington.

"I don't know about this proposal . . . but . . . the United States knows very well our position about it," Shamir said today in Tel Aviv.

Some diplomats at the United Nations believe that the fact that the United States is considering the resolution could be considered a none-too-subtle hint that the Bush administration wants Israel to show far more flexibility on the Palestinian question.

The resolution, which could be voted on as early as today, could call for a peace conference "at an appropriate time."

The timing of the renewed Security Council debate on the safety of Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied territories is particularly delicate, as the United States tries to hold together its anti-Iraq coalition.

The Bush administration is caught between defending Israel and keeping the allegiance of Arab nations aligned against Iraq's President Saddam Hussein.

U.S. diplomats this week circulated a working paper that had softened the language of the resolution requesting the peace conference.

In an effort to modify language and avoid casting a possible veto, U.S. Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering asked for an additional 24 hours in an effort to reach a compromise.

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