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U.S. mediator Zinni will propose monitors to Israel, Palestinians

WASHINGTON (AP) _ If American mediator Anthony Zinni can persuade Israel and the Palestinians to agree to a truce, he will propose monitors to keep it from breaking down, Israeli Ambassador David Ivry said Tuesday.

``If we get an agreement, you have to monitor it,'' Ivry said at a news conference, indicating the idea had the support of the Israeli government. ``It is a major idea that Zinni is going to put on the table.''

Zinni and State Department mediator Aaron D. Miller, a veteran of Mideast negotiations, leave for the area Wednesday night. It will be Zinni's third attempt to arrange a lasting cease-fire and prod the two sides into peacemaking gestures.

A senior U.S. official said monitoring helps build confidence and maintain a cease-fire. The United States is prepared to provide monitors, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Ivry said the monitors' role would be to preserve any truce so the peacemaking process could get under way. Among the monitors' tasks, he said, would be to make sure Palestinian terror suspects were detained and were not quietly released afterward.

Ivry, a former Israeli air force chief and deputy chief of staff of the Israeli defense forces, is planning to leave his diplomatic post and return to Israel in mid-April. A successor has not been picked.

He spoke at a luncheon sponsored by the Center for Middle East Peace & Economic Cooperation, a private group that describes itself as neutral in the Arab-Israeli dispute.

Zinni will meet with Israeli and Palestinian officials, and may make side trips to Jordan and Egypt. His mission coincides with a trip by Vice President Dick Cheney to the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, which is focusing on both the Arab-Israeli conflict and the U.S.-led campaign against terror.

Zinni, a retired Marine general, is trying to implement a cease-fire plan devised by Central Intelligence Agency Director George Tenet.

Details have been withheld by the State Department, but Ivry made clear it included dentition of terror suspects.

Israel, meanwhile, would be asked to ease travel restrictions on Palestinians on the West Bank and in Gaza and withdraw its troops from Palestinian population centers.

Hovering over the Zinni and Cheney trips is a proposal by Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia calling for Arab recognition of Israel if it gives up all the land Jordan and Syria lost in the 1967 Mideast war. That means all of the West Bank and Gaza, as well as part of Jerusalem, which would become the capital of a Palestinian state.

Ivry said Abdullah had sent ``a very important signal'' to the Israeli people that there is a chance to make peace. ``I think we should take it as a good signal and use it.''

However, he said he was under no illusions about Arab demands. When the Arab League meets later this month it will demand that Israel pull even farther back _ to the territory it held at the declaration of Israel's independence in 1948.

On another monitoring operation, Ivry urged the Bush administration not to withdraw the Americans who are in Sinai overseeing the 1979 peace agreement between Israel and Egypt.

Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld last month said he was trying to persuade Israel and Egypt to agree to a drastic reduction of the U.S. force.

``Everyone always says it's not a good time to do that,'' Rumsfeld told a congressional hearing. ``Well, it's never a good time to do that.''

Some 1,850 American soldiers have served in the force since 1982 at a cost to the Untied States of about $15 million a year. Israel and Egypt pay part of the force's expenses and other countries make contributions.

Ivry said he could understand why troops in the desert would want to return to their homes. But he said there should be only a small reduction, at most, and not elimination of the force.

``Some people would interpret that as the United States trying to relinquish its influence,'' he said.
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