Reagan plans to confront Begin on settlements
Washington — President Reagan is determined to make his call for a freeze on Israeli settlements ''a major issue'' when Israel's prime minister, Menachem Begin, meets with him here next week, administration officials say.
An official says the continuing establishment of settlements on the West Bank of the Jordan River ''really does call into question'' the Israelis' willingness to abide by United Nations Resolution 242, which involves an exchange of occupied territory for peace.
Even in advance of his meeting with the President, Mr. Begin is refusing to consider a settlements freeze, such as the one Mr. Reagan proposed on Sept. 1 when he announced his new Middle East peace initiative. In the American view, this refusal could discourage Arab ''moderates'' from joining the peace negotiations that Reagan is calling for. As one Arab analyst puts it, ''Begin is rolling into Washington in a tank.''
A State Department official says, however, that a high level of ''interesting activity'' is occurring among the Arabs, particularly when it comes to meetings between officials of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and other Arabs. According to the semi-official Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram, the PLO has set two conditions for ''mutual and simultaneous'' recognition with Israel: (1) an American pledge to start talks with the PLO; and (2) a US guarantee that the PLO would be included in peace negotiations on the same footing with the other Arab parties.
The US has already given the pledge required in Point 1, if the PLO recognizes Israel's right to exist. But it is having trouble with Point 2, because Israel refuses to negotiate with any known PLO officials.
Nicholas A. Veliotes, the US assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, says that the PLO's proposal to have a mutual and simultaneous recognition with Israel, based on conditions, was actually a step backward in the negotiating process. ''I am concerned lest a growing set of preconditions from either side push us back further from the prospects of early negotiations,'' said Mr. Veliotes in an interview prepared on Nov. 9 for broadcast by the Voice of America.
Veliotes says that King Hussein of Jordan, who is to meet here with Mr. Reagan on Dec. 21, was the key figure in the current US attempt to broaden the Camp David negotiating process to include other Arabs. King Hussein has made clear, however, that he required an Arab consensus, including support from the PLO, before he could enter negotiations that would include Israel. The PLO wants to be part of any Arab negotiating team.
''The facts of life are that if the PLO comes to a negotiating table, the Israelis won't be there,'' says Veliotes.
Veliotes suggested that the way to overcome this obstacle is for Jordan to come to the table together with ''appropriate Palestinians who are readily acceptable under the Camp David agreements'' - namely, inhabitants of the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza district, such as elected mayors from those territories.
The assistant secretary says that the ever-expanding settlements on the West Bank were ''a very important issue,'' and, as Reagan has made clear, ''a major obstacle to the peace process.'' But he is cautious when it comes to how the President would deal with Prime Minister Begin in their forthcoming Nov. 19 meeting: ''I think the President will, as usual, speak clearly with respect to American policy and American interests.''
On the issue of American attempts to bring about a rapid withdrawal of Israeli, Syrian, and remaining PLO forces from Lebanon, Veliotes says the diplomatic ''momentum'' has slowed. ''We are hopeful that in the coming weeks this process will be accelerated,'' he said. ''The various parties have to stop making preconditions. . . .''
''The Lebanese have said we want everyone out,'' he continued. ''. . . Everyone we've talked to who are interested parties say they certainly agree that, and yet nothing is happening, at least not fast enough. . . . Nothing is moving on the key issues.''
Veliotes was asked if the US would consider expanding the multinational force , which includes US marines and which is supporting the Lebanese government in its eforts to reassert its authority.
Veliotes's answer was a qualified ''yes.''
He says that an expansion of the multinational force, within the context of agreed withdrawals of foreign troops from Lebanon and a reassertion of Lebanese authority, is ''something which is not only desirable but probably essential.''
Other US officials, meanwhile, confirmed that Reagan has informed King Hussein that should the PLO recognize Israel and accept the appropriate UN resolutions - without conditions - the US would immediately begin talks with the PLO at the ambassadorial level. The biweekly Middle East Policy Survey says Reagan informed Hussein of this through a letter intended to address the long-standing Arab complaint that the US has never formulated a positive policy toward the PLO. Asked about reports that Jordan might be ''rewarded'' by increased US arms sales if it were to enter negotiations with the Israelis and Egyptians, a US official said that if the Jordanians agreed to such negotiations , ''lots of things would be possible.''