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Bush Assures Jewish Leaders: Reagan Will Raise Issue of Soviet Jews when He Meets with Gorbachev

Vice President George Bush assured American Jewish leaders Tuesday that if President Reagan meets with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev this year he will raise the issue of Soviet Jews.

“This matter will be raised, with specifics attached, when the President meets, as I think he will, with Gorbachev,” Bush was quoted as saying by Morris Abram, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Abram spoke to reporters shortly after Bush met with the Presidents Conference at the Old Executive Office Building to describe his recent 10-day visit to the Middle East and answer questions from some of the nearly 100 leaders present, representing 54 Jewish organizations.

In addition to the pledge on Soviet Jewry, Abram said those present were especially “pleased with his (Bush’s) firm and emphatic and unequivocal rejection of the idea of an independent Palestinian state.”

While this was a restatement of Administration policy, “it was particularly gratifying to hear it from the Vice President after a trip to the area in which he met with the leaders of two Arab states,” King Hussein of Jordan and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Abram said. Bush also met with Israeli Premier Shimon Peres.

A Reagan-Gorbachev summit by the end of the year is becoming more likely. Reagan in his nationally-televised press conference from Chicago Tuesday night, said, “Yes, I am optimistic,” when asked about prospects for a summit.

DIFFICULT SUBJECT TO SOLVE

Abram said that Bush is “absolutely aware … that there has been no improvement (for Soviet Jews), in fact a worsening of conditions, under Mikhail Gorbachev.” Bush “recognizes as does, he says, the total Administration, that the subject is extremely difficult to solve,” Abram said. “But the President is determined to make this a fundamental point in all negotiations with the Soviet Union.”

Abram, who is also chairman of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, said Bush “exhibited an extraordinary interest in the plight of Soviet Jewry.” While in Israel, the Vice President met with children of Soviet immigrants at an absorption center, had lunch with an immigrant couple, met with 80 mothers of refuseniks and met with Natan (Anatoly) Shcharansky.

“The Vice President has exhibited real concern about the plight of those who are under oppression and who try to immigrate to Eretz Israel, the Land of Israel,” Abram said. “I think he was one of the prime factors in the rescue of many thousands of Ethiopian Jews.”

In discussing his Mideast trip, Bush repeated his praise of Peres for having “exhibited courage” in going to Morocco to meet with King Hassan II. He said the “climate was enhanced” for negotiations since there was no major Arab outcry, except for Syria.

Bush also asserted that he believes that the Israeli policy of seeking negotiations with Jordan will continue when Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir becomes Premier in October, according to Abram.

The Vice President said he knew he differed with the audience about supplying arms to Jordan. But he said selling arms to Jordan is one way to bring Jordan into the peace process, Abram said. Bush said the Administration had no timetable for resubmitting its proposal to supply Jordan with sophisticated missiles, noting that the mood in Congress now would be to reject it.

Bush told the Jewish leaders that the arms would not endanger Israel but are needed to protect Jordan against Syria, which is also a threat to Israel. He repeated the Administration’s pledge to maintain Israel’s “qualitative military superiority.

Abram said he told Bush that the Administration, by placing the U.S.-Israeli relationship beyond the basis of ideology and common values to one also of “the vital national security interests of both countries,” adds “a new dimension to the relationship and makes it more secure and enduring.”

A PROBLEM OF BUREAUCRACY

At the same time, concern was expressed to Bush about recent leaks and false charges against Israel that have appeared in the media. Abram said the charges were not against the top officials in the Administration. “Some people who are irresponsible, somewhere in the bowels of the bureaucracy … are determined to disrupt this very sound, ongoing relationship” between the U.S. and Israel, Abram said.

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Presidents Conference, said that Bush assured the Jewish leaders, as he had personally assured Israeli officials, that there was no “vendetta” against Israel. But he said that although the Administration wanted to find out who is responsible for the leaks and stop it, it is “very difficult to exercise control” over the vast bureaucracy.

ISSUE OF EQUAL TREATMENT FOR ISRAEL

Abram said that Bush also promised to look into the issue of equal treatment in the cost of arms purchases for Israel. He noted that Greece, “which is not a very dependable ally,” as a member of NATO gets preferable conditions in buying arms while Israel, “which is a dependable ally,” does not. As an example, he noted that Greece does not have to pay the research and development costs of a weapon as does Israel.

On other matters, Bush told the Jewish leaders he believes his Mideast trip was a “catalyst” to solving the Taba dispute between Israel and Egypt. Hoenlein said when the Vice President was asked about the anti-Semitic tone of the Egyptian press, Bush replied that he was concerned about this and had taken the matter up with Egyptian officials.

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