Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Hussein called on the United States Wednesday to make the next move in the Middle East peace process. The two leaders, who spoke to reporters after meeting on the Egyptian island of Hurghada, stepped back from Mr. Mubarak's call last month for direct talks between Israel and a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation. Instead, they spoke of the need for the US to meet with a Palestinian-Jordanian delegation and emphasized the importance of a role for the Palestine Liberation Organization.
The position taken by the two leaders dimmed hopes for an early breakthrough in the stalled peace process. Mubarak is scheduled to arrive in Washington March 9. It is unlikely that he will be able to persuade the Reagan administration to take a more active role on the basis of the stop-and-start moves of the past three weeks.
An official close to Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, however, said the Israelis are still hopeful that diplomatic moves behind the scenes might continue to slowly push all the parties forward.
``This meeting almost had to be anticlimactic,'' said the official, who spoke on condition he not be named. ``I think that a process has been started now that still could lead in the direction of negotiations.''
Last week Israel accepted Mubarak's offer to negotiate with a Palestinian-Jordanian delegation in Cairo. Prime Minister Peres said, however, that Israel would not negotiate with a delegation that included PLO members. He said he opposed talks that excluded Israel.
Wednesday's meeting between Hussein and Mubarak was the first since Hussein and PLO chairman Yasser Arafat agreed Feb. 11 to pursue a joint strategy for a peaceful settlement to the Palestinian problem.
Mubarak's offer caused an uproar within the PLO, officials of which called it an attempt to undermine Arafat. It also caused friction in Israel's ``national unity'' government. Members of the right-wing Likud bloc accused Peres and other Labor Party ministers of being too enthusiastic about Mubarak's plan. They said the plan was a publicity stunt aimed at bolstering Mubarak's request for a big increase in aid from the United States.
In making his offer for talks, Mubarak said that Palestinian members of a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation need not be PLO members. Israel and the US do not recognize the PLO, which the Arabs consider the ``sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.''
Wednesday, Mubarak said that he never said ``that the Palestinian delegates should not be PLO members. I said, more than once, that the PLO is everywhere in the [Israeli-occupied] West Bank, in Gaza.''
PLO officials rejected the invitation, although Arafat said in Tunis that he was continuing to seek common ground with Mubarak. Hussein was silent until Wednesday, though high-ranking Jordanian officials had said direct talks with Israel were impossible at this point.
In their agreement, which is being revised by PLO representatives and Jordanians in Amman, Jordan, Hussein and Arafat called for negotiations to be conducted in the framework of an international conference. The conference would include the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council as well as all parties to the conflict. Israel and the United States have rejected the notion of an international conference.
Hussein made it clear Wednesday that he believed Jordan and the PLO had taken an important step forward by signing an agreement that calls for Israel to withdraw from all territories it occupied in 1967 in exchange for peace. ``Once again, we are in the position of having made the first vital move. We have to wait for the reaction now,'' the King said.
US officials have made it clear the PLO-Jordanian accord was not enough. The PLO has not accepted UN Resolution 242, which calls for trading land for secure borders of every state in the region. Until the PLO accepts 242 and recognizes Israel, Western diplomats here said, the US is unlikely to change its stand on the PLO.