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Ford, Jewish Community Leaders Discuss Domestic, Foreign Issues

President Ford discussed matters of national and international concern with 30 Jewish community leaders from all parts of the country at a meeting in the White House late Thursday afternoon. The meeting, which was not announced to the press beforehand, was described by White House Press Secretary Ron Nessen as having nothing to do with politics. The Jewish representatives attending were leaders on the “grass roots” level rather than the heads of major national organizations.

During the course of their discussion which lasted two hours, though originally scheduled for less than one hour, Ford characterized Israel as “the linch-pin for the area (the Middle East) in terms of peace and security there,” reiterated the U.S. military and moral commitment to Israel, which he said was very evident and indicated that he was amenable to a compromise with respect to funding Israel’s economic and military needs for the transitional quarter between the end of fiscal 1976 and the start of fiscal 1977.

The meeting was reported to have been arranged by Max Fisher of Detroit, a national Jewish leader and personal friend of the President. Ranking Administration official attending included Gen. Brent Scowcroft, chairman of the National Security Council, and Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors. According to Nessen, the meetings was “one of a series” the President has been having “not just with Jewish leaders.”

One of the participants said afterwards “it was one of the best meetings I have ever seen the President have with any group. It was a candid exchange of views and I think the group left with the sense that the President has been honest with them. Although he didn’t answer their questions 100 percent as they might have wanted, it was a very warm and friendly atmosphere.”

COMPROMISE ON FUNDING INDICATED

With respect to the $375 million in transitional quarter funding approved for Israel in the Senate’s version of the foreign aid bill. Ford said the could not see his way, “in terms of our own budget situation of agreeing to $375 million but somewhere within those figures there is a way we can compromise it without a stalemate.” He was referring to the difference between the $375 million and the $200 million ceiling proposed by the Administration.

Ford denied reports that he had told Congressional leaders he would veto any measure that contained one dollar above the $200 million. He said he was aware that the Israelis have indicated they would have a short-fail of $80 million by the end of the transitional period if they received only $200 million but observed that “If reasonable people can get together, we hope to be able to solve it so that Israel will not have a short fall.”

ABSOLUTELY COMMITTED TO ISRAEL

Ford assured the group that he was absolutely committed to Israel and “could not standidly by when there were questions about Israel’s security and survival. Israel occupies a very strategic piece of land in an area of importance to all the world, although Israel does not have some of the mineral resources other countries in that area have….Israel is the linch-pin for the area in terms of peace and security there.”

He made the point that in the two years that he has been President, Israel received more than 40 percent of the total aid it has gotten from the U.S. between 1943-1975. He stated that Israel received $6.5 billion in U.S. aid during the 27 months of Ford Administration budgets, including transitional quarter funding.

The President said he would have to complete his review of the specifics of legislation now pending to combat the Arab boycott of Israel before discussing them or taking a strong stand. But he reiterated his strong personal views against discriminatory boycotts.

With respect to Soviet Jewry, the group agreed with Ford that it was too late in the year to provide aid from a legislative viewpoint. Ford said, however, that he hoped ways could be found to “break the log jam.” He said he was “not interested in talking about blame in the situation but how do we improve it.”

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