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URGENT Bush, Mitterrand Confer; No One Path to Lasting Mideast Peace

March 14, 1991

TROIS-ILETS, Martinique (AP) _ President Bush and French President Francois Mitterrand conferred today on the path to peace in the Middle East but Bush said allies have not settled on ″one path, one single approach″ to solve Arab-Israeli differences.

″It is very important that it do be solved,″ Bush said, but he refused to discuss details of possible solutions he might have discussed with Mitterrand.

Bush said he was hopeful that postwar efforts to find peace in the Middle East would lead to the release of 13 Westerners believed held hostage in Lebanon.

He said there were not ″positive points for optimism″ on the hostages but expressed hope that progress might come about as a result of Secretary of State James A. Baker III’s just-completed five-day trip to the Mideast.

Of possible solutions to Arab-Israeli differences, he said: ″We simply have not come across or settled on one path, one single approach to try to solve this Palestine-Israel question.″

Bush repeated his contention that Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat had ″simply bet on the wrong horse″ in supporting Saddam Hussein. He said the United States would continue to talk to Palestinian representatives who met with Baker earlier this week.

Mitterrand, for his part, said it was up to the Palestinians to decide the role of the PLO in future peace negotiations, saying ″to my knowledge the PLO still appears the representative organization.″

Martinique was the second stop on Bush’s five-day postwar journey to meet with key allied leaders. He will fly on tonight to Bermuda, where he meets British Prime Minister John Major on Saturday.

Bush left the chilly Canadian capital of Ottawa at dawn today and flew to the sunny island of Martinique and the talks with Mitterrand, a key ally in Operation Desert Storm.

At a news conference Wednesday with Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, Bush criticized Iraq for using helicopters to quash rebels seeking to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s government. ″Do not do this,″ he warned.

At the same time, he cautioned Iran against any designs on Iraq, saying ″grabbing territory ... would be the worst thing they could do.″

Bush and Mulroney met over dinner with Canadian Foreign Minister Joe Clark, just back from Tehran and other Middle Eastern capitals.

France has often steered its own course toward the Arab world, to the chagrin of Washington. But it was an integral part of the coalition that drove Iraq from Kuwait, ″and President Mitterrand led the way,″ said Bush.

Asked whether he would press Mitterrand to stop recognizing Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization as an official voice of the Palestinians, the president said, ″I have no interest in asking them not to back the PLO.″

He said, ″We may have some differences with France. And if so, I expect I’ll hear them loud and clear down in Martinique.

″I wouldn’t expect to find ... that President Mitterrand was elated about the performance of Yasser Arafat,″ Bush added.

He said he was eager to ask, ″Francois, what are you going to say about this one? ... I know he’ll be disappointed in the way the PLO ... drew the wrong side.″

Arafat embraced Saddam’s cause and applauded his use of Scud missiles against Israeli civilians in an attempt to widen the war.

Mulroney said, ″I think that the credibility of the leadership of the PLO is zero.″

The United States broke off a dialogue with the PLO last year after a terrorist attack on Israel. Mitterrand met with Arafat in Paris last year.

In other gulf-related developments:

-Secretary of State James A. Baker III today wound up a five-nation Middle East trip in Syria and said Syria and other key Arab countries were serious about pursuing peace with Israel. But Baker said the Arab governments are not yet ready to follow Egypt’s lead in recognizing the Jewish state.

″You have to take it a step at a time,″ he said before departing for Moscow to review the restiveness in the Soviet Union.

-Kuwait’s ruler, Sheik Jaber al-Ahmed al-Sabah, ended seven months of exile today, returning to his once-prosperous nation to face a mammoth rebuilding job and an increasingly restless and dissatisfied population.

-U.S. military officials said forensic experts tentatively identified the remains of 13 allied dead turned over by Iraq as five American and eight British soldiers. The American dead were being flown this morning from Saudi Arabia to the central mortuary in Dover, Del., for positive identification. The other remains were turned over to British authorities.

-U.N. diplomats said Britain has drafted a Security Council resolution demanding the supervised destruction of Iraq’s chemical weapons before the international embargo on trade with Iraq is lifted.

France in the past has pressed for an international peace conference on the Middle East - a view shared by the PLO but opposed by the United States and Israel.

But France has tempered that position lately. Hubert Vedrine, Mitterrand’s spokesman, said Washington and Paris ″were never so close″ as they are now in foreign policy objectives.

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