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Bush congratulates Shamir, pushes peace process

WASHINGTON -- President Bush has written Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir to congratulate him on the formation of his new government and to urge him to move the peace process along, a spokesman said Monday.

White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater said Bush called on the prime minister 'to pursue the Shamir initiative for peace' -- a proposal for local elections involving Palestinian Arabs.

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Bush's letter was written amid increasing U.S. frustration over inability to get Israel and Palestinian representatives to the peace table.

In congressional testimony last week, a harshly critical Secretary of State James Baker said he doubts the Israeli government is serious about seeking peace and said that if it gets serious, 'call us.' Baker then rattled off the White House phone number, sparking thousands of calls that overloaded the switchboard.

Fitzwater said, 'The president sent a letter to Mr. Shamir within the last few days congratulating him on the formation of a new government and urging him to pursue the Shamir initiative for peace and committing the United States to help promote the peace plan.'

In May 1989, Shamir put forward a plan for Palestinian Arabs to take part in voting on choosing representatives to run their local affairs -- 'autonomy' is the word used in the plan.

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The United States, while not fully statisfied by the proposal, supported it, but Shamir has resisted putting the plan into action.

The administration has continued to use the Shamir plan as a starting point to get the peace process moving.

The previous Israeli coalition fell over a peace process rift between the Labor Party and the Shamir's Likud party.

In an interview Monday broadcast by Jerusalem Television, Shamir said he had recived a letter from Bush and 'naturally we will reply.'

'We will explain the best of our ability our attitude, our proposals, and I sincerely hope if, here and there, there are differences of opinion, we will reach an agreement,' he said.

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