U.S. Promises New Talks with Israel on War Criminals After Snafu on E. Jerusalem Venue

The State Department said today that there would be “a new phase” in talks between the U.S. and Israel on the possibility of deporting suspected war criminals stripped of their American citizenship to stand trial in Israel. But no date was given.

Discussions were to have begun in Israel last week between Mark Richards, Deputy Assistant to U.S. Attorney General William French Smith, and Israel’s Attorney General Yitzhak Zamir. The talks did not materialize however because of a dispute over venue. The Israelis insisted that Richards come to Zamir’s office in East Jerusalem. The American official refused on grounds that the U.S. does not recognize Israel’s sovereignty in East Jerusalem which was annexed after the 1967 Six-Day War. Richards returned to Washington Sunday.

State Department deputy spokesman Alan Romberg affirmed today that “There has been a long standing policy since 1967 that U.S. officials have not met with Israeli officials in Israel if their offices were in East Jerusalem.” Nevertheless, according to Romberg, “We have had discussions going on and those talks will continue … A new phase of the talks is coming.” He gave no further details.

Richards went to Israel specifically to discuss the case of Valerian Trifa, Archbishop of the Rumanian Orthodox Church in the U.S. who was stripped of citizenship and ordered deported after it was confirmed that he lied about his Nazi past to obtain entry into the U.S. and subsequently, naturalization. Trifa, a leader of the fascist Iron Guard in Rumania during World War II, is held responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Jews in a pogrom in Bucharest in 1941.

His deportation was ordered by a federal court earlier this year but the U.S. has been unable to find any country that would accept him. Israel indicated it would consider trying Trifa and other alleged war criminals facing deportation if there was sufficient evidence to obtain a conviction. Under a law adopted in 1950, Israel arrogated to itself the right to try persons accused of crimes against Jews anywhere in the world before the Jewish state was founded in 1948.

Yitzhak Feinberg, a spokesman for the Justice Ministry in Jerusalem, said after Richards’ departure that he hoped the discussions could be continued later at a lower level. Richards was the highest ranking Justice Department official to come to Israel to discuss the matter. He reportedly met with Zamir at a hotel in the western section of Jerusalem last week and they discussed various subjects but not the case of Trifa or other suspected war criminals. According to Zamir, protocol demanded that the primary subject of Richards’ visit to Israel must be discussed at his office.

According to reports from Jerusalem, an appointment was scheduled for noon last Thursday but was cancelled by Richards. Feinberg said later that there were several suspected war criminals residing in the U.S. whom Israel wanted to prosecute. He said trying Trifa was problematic because the Rumanian-born cleric was accused of inciting a pogrom but not of killing anyone.

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