The United States and Soviet Union Friday announced a Middle East peace conference would open Oct. 30 in Madrid, the first broad peace effort for the region in two war-torn decades.
President Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev will attend the opening of the peace talks, the White House announced."This invitation offers the peoples in this region a pathway to ending an era of confrontation, and it offers a basis for a new future," Secretary of State James Baker said. Soviet Foreign Minister Boris Pankin was at his side when the announcement was made.
In Washington, presidential spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said "the president plans to be there to open this historic occasion, one with potential to bring true peace and security to people of the region."
Fitzwater said Bush and Gorbachev would open the Madrid ceremonies and meet separately as well.
"The stage we have come to represents a very important turning point for the Middle East," Pankin said. "History is handing out an opportunity that we must not pass up."Fitzwater said the objective of the conference is "nothing less than a just lasting and comprehensive settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict."
Baker said the invitations were in the process of being delivered. Even at this point, Baker could not state flatly that all parties would attend.
"I am hopeful we will receive a positive response," he said, adding that his optimism was based on his conviction that "every party we dealt with really wants a peace process."
Just minutes earlier, Israel said it would attend. "I think I will recommend to the government that it give its approval because there is no better alternative," Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir said. "Without negotiations, we can never reach peace."
Syria, Jordan, and Egypt already have expressed a willingness to participate. Palestinians will be present as part of the Jordanian delegation.
The conference will be held in three phases. There will be a formal opening, Baker said, to be followed within four days by bilateral negotiations among the parties. Two weeks later, Baker said, there will be regional talks.
The opening session of the peace conference will be held in Madrid, although Baker said the site of followup bilateral and multilateral negotiations must "still be addressed." Madrid came as a surprise, following reports that Lausanne, Switzerland, might host the peace talks.
Baker said: "The road to peace will not be simple. Old suspicions will not disappear overnight." He said it would be "extremely difficult with many problems and hitches, and probably, many interruptions along the way."
The announcement followed the restoration of full diplomatic relations between the Soviet Union and Israel lapse Israel's approval of U.S. terms for the talks.
That is the phase Syria so far is boycotting. It will deal with such issues as arms buildups in the Middle East and water scarcities. Syrian President Hafez Assad has said his country would not discuss those issues until Israel agrees to return the Golan Heights it has occupied since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
After the 1973 Yom Kippur war, the United Nations with backing by the United States and Soviet Union hosted a Mideast peace conference in Geneva. Syria refused to attend. Egypt, Jordan and Israel presented opening statements. The conference then adjourned and never resumed.