Secretary of State James Baker is likely to return to the Middle East soon to work out details of a proposed peace conference, administration officials said Saturday.
"He'll be back sooner rather than later," said one official who insisted on anonymity.Baker flew back to Washington Friday night following a visit to Turkey, Israel, Egypt, Syria and Switzerland during which he discussed the Kurdish refugee crisis and Arab-Israeli disputes. Officials said the secretary is expected to return to the Middle East before the end of April or in early May.
Baker wants leaders of Israel, the Arabs and Palestinians to sit down at a U.S.-sponsored peace conference in which the Soviets would also participate. Israel told the secretary it no longer objects to Soviet participation in such talks but insisted they not include all permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.
"Israel wants peace but does not want its terms to be dictated," a government official told United Press International in Jerusalem. "We're willing to make compromises. There is a real chance to move forward."
Administration officials said the Soviets could co-sponsor - not merely participate in - such a peace conference but it first must restore full diplomatic ties with Israel, which the Krelmin cut off following the 1967 war.
The United States is pursuing a "two-track" concept - negotiations among the Arab states and Israel as well as between Israelis and Palestinians.
Palestinian representation at the peace talks remains a complex, sensitive issue. Israel refuses to talk to the Palestine Liberation Organization, branding it a terrorist group. Palestinian leaders insist on being represented by the PLO.
Other key problems are Israeli settlements of Soviet Jews on the occupied West Bank and Syria's firm, public commitment to accept face-to-face talks with Jerusalem, according to administration officials.