Rep. Wayne Owens, fresh from a 1 1/2-hour briefing by Secretary of State James Baker, believes now is the best opportunity for peace in the Middle East - but America must act decisively.

Owens, D-Utah, is a member of the House Foreign Affairs committee and is assigned to a group that deals with the Middle East. Owens has traveled widely in the region the past four years. He was the last congressman to question Yasser Arafat some time ago.The congressman believes that if the United States will sign a mutual defense treaty with Israel - in short, ensuring its security from outside attack - then Israelis will be willing to allow some of the Palestinian land captured over several wars to be returned.

Such a treaty would tightly bind U.S. interests into the powder keg that's the Middle East. But Owens says it is necessary to make the four million Jews in Israel feel safe when they are surrounded by 180 million Arabs - many of whom are still officially in a state of war with Israel.

While more good than bad came from the gulf war, Owens told Hinckley Institute of Politics students Friday that he wonders if we're losing the peace.

"What has come? Saudi Arabia is not keeping promises it made before and during the war. We've driven Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, at a cost of 100,000 to 150,000 killed. But we've restored a feudal monarch in Kuwait, an emir who has 42 wives in a country where women can't even vote. I'm troubled to think that American blood and treasury were used to put him (back) there."

Owens predicts that when all is said and done, Israel will agree to a regional peace conference. "But they will not talk to representatives of the PLO. They will, I believe, talk to legitimate representatives from East Jerusalem" and other Palestinians.

Owens was criticized last year for meeting with Arafat. Now, Owens says Arafat's support of Saddam during the war has destroyed his political credibility. "He angered the PLO's largest financial backers, the other Arabs, and the West."

Believing U.N. General Secretary Javier Perez de Cuellar is a "weakling who is intimidated by just about anyone," Owens says it's up to Baker and President Bush to reach peace, not the United Nations. "I encouraged Secretary Baker in our question-and-answer period to forcefully put forward a plan. I believe he will," when Baker goes to the Middle East again.