Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze said Saturday his country will press the U.N. Security Council to convene an international conference to try to resolve the Middle East conflict.
Shevardnadze, who began a 10-day Middle East tour Friday, unveiled the Soviet proposals at a dinner following a six-hour meeting with President Hafez Assad."It is our profound conviction that favorable prerequisites are now in place for movement toward convening an international conference to be attended by all parties concerned, including the PLO and five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council," Shevardnadze said in his lengthy toast.
In response, Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Al-Sharaa said his country welcomed a Middle East peace conference under U.N. auspices and accused Israel of blocking it.
"It is one of the most bizarre wonders that the more the Arabs advance toward the peace choice, Israel progresses toward the choice of war and aggression," Al-Sharaa said.
He said the PLO should participate and "it is only natural that such a conference will result in Israel's withdrawal from all the occupied territories" and an independent state for the Palestinians.
Israel television and radio said Saturday Shevardnadze would hold separate meetings with Foreign Minister Moshe Arens and PLO leader Yasser Arafat during a visit to Egypt this week.
Israel refuses to speak to the Palestine Liberation Organization, which it calls a terrorist group (see A1).
Shevardnadze's plan - which he said should be carried out in the next six to nine months - includes an initial meeting of the foreign ministers of the U.N. Security Council.
He said the council's five permanent members then should contact the parties involved and "assume the function of a preparatory body for the conference." Permanent members are Britain, China, France, the Soviet Union and the United States.
While the rest of the world moves toward disarmament, Shevardnadze said, the Middle East is marked by an escalating arms race, including "such weapons of mass destruction as nuclear arms and chemical weapons."
He said it was "indisputable that an equitable settlement cannot be attained without unity among the Arab countries," adding he would be happy to host a meeting of representatives from Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon and the PLO.
"It is also important to strengthen the link of Syrian-Palestinian interaction," he said.
Syria is the Soviet Union's most important ally in the region, and Arab media reported earlier that Shevardnadze's visit may lead to a reconciliation between Assad and Arafat.