NEW YORK (Feb. 16)
Premier Yitzhak Shamir said on his arrival here from Israel Monday that he is still waiting “for the verification” of reports that Soviet Jewish dissident Iosif Begun has been released from prison, but offered congratulations to Begun’s family should the reports prove correct.
Shamir, here for a 10-day visit which will include a meeting with President Reagan at the White House Wednesday, pledged that Israel “will continue the struggle on behalf of Soviet Jewry.” Asked to comment on the latest Soviet “gesture,” the release, according to Moscow last week, of 140 imprisoned dissidents, the Israeli leader replied: “We are not interested in gestures. We are interested in meaningful change.”
Shamir, asked by reporters if his talk with Reagan will include the Iran-Contra arms sale affair replied, “We will discuss many subjects.” Pressed on that matter, however, he answered, “Maybe.” Israeli sources here said the Shamir-Reagan meeting would deal primarily with bilateral issues, the Middle East situation and other topics, but they did not think Iran would be among them.
NOW AN OFFICIAL ALLY OF THE U.S.
Before leaving Israel, Shamir declared that Israel is now “an official ally of the United States.” Questioned about this here, he stated that “Israel is a major non-NATO ally of the United States” but did not elaborate. According to reports, Secretary of State George Shultz and Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger asked Congress to grant Israel the status of an official, special ally of the U.S.
Israel has sought the status which is conferred upon non-NATO allies including Japan and Australia. The change will allow Israeli firms to bid for valuable defense-related projects in the U.S. which could garner Israel up to $300 million in additional revenue. The step towards formalizing bilateral relations between Israel and the U.S. comes after the U.S. and Israel have already signed a strategic cooperation agreement to hold joint military exercises.
Shamir met at his hotel here with Governor Thomas Kean of New Jersey, whom he met when the latter visited Israel two years ago. Governor Mario Cuomo of New York is presently out of the State. Shamir also met Monday afternoon with Mayor Edward Koch of New York City.
PURPOSE OF SHAMIR’S TRIP
A spokesman for Shamir briefed reporters following the meting with Koch. He said that the Mayor had asked Shamir the purpose of his present visit to the U.S., to which the Premier replied that since Israel has become a major ally of the U.S., he wants to clarify the definition and contents of this new relationship.
Shamir also discussed Soviet Jewry with Koch and expressed dissatisfaction that Soviet Jews come to the U.S. with refugee status. They are not refugees, he said, because they leave the USSR with Israeli visas. He said he would raise this matter with U.S. officials when he is in Washington.
The spokesman said Koch and Kean had both urged that Israel not enter into negotiations with terrorists for the release of hostages and that Shamir told them Israel has no intention of doing so.
ISRAEL SEEKS TO BUILD SOLID ECONOMY
The spokesman said Shamir lunched Monday with members of the Jewish Task Force for the Economic Development of Israel, at the Regency Hotel. The meeting was chaired by David Hermelin, international chairman of the Israel Bond Organization.
Shamir told the group that Israel is very much concerned with building and establishing its economy on solid grounds. He said he has confidence in the goals of the Task Force and believes that if they are correctly implemented, Israel will stabilize its economy in 10 years.
According to the spokesman, Shamir is satisfied with the atmosphere surrounding his American visit, despite media reports about Israel’s involvement in the Iran-Contra arms scandal. He leaves for Washington Tuesday and will remain there until Friday, when he leaves for Los Angeles. Shamir will return to New York on February 23 for meetings with Jewish leaders and student groups.
The Premier is accompanied on his trip by four senior aides: Avi Pazner, his communications advisor; Elyakim Rubinstein, Cabinet Secretary; Gen. Azriel Nevo, his Aid de Camp; and Yosef Ben-Aharon, Director General of the Prime Minister’s Office.