WASHINGTON (Feb. 19)
Israeli Premier Yitzhak Shamir stressed Thursday that the Israeli government “will respond to every question and request to clarification” from Congressional committees investigating the Iran-Contra affair.
“It will become clear that Israel acted in accordance with its obligations as a friend and ally of the United States,” he said in response to a question after his address at a luncheon of the National Press Club.
During his speech before some 300 persons, Shamir declared that “Israel was not involved in any way in the diversion of funds (from the sale of American arms to Iran) to Contras.” He maintained that Israel’s participation in the sale of arms to Iran was a result of its belief that Iran is a strategically important country and there is a need to influence its policies.
After Shamir met with some 60 members of Congress Wednesday, Sen. Daniel Inouye (D. Hawaii) and Rep. Lee Hamilton (D. Ind.), chairmen of the Senate and House special committees investigating the Iran affair, said the Israelis agreed to answer questions in writing and submit a chronology of Israeli financial transactions and contacts with Iran.
NO SPECIFIC ANSWERS
Shamir refused to answer any specific questions Thursday, such as whether President Reagan approved Israel’s sale of arms to Iran in 1985. There has been a conflict in testimony on whether Reagan authorized the sale or not.
Asked whom he expected to win the Iran-Iraq war, Shamir shrugged his shoulders and replied, “I realize I come from Jerusalem, but I am not a prophet.”
He said it was a “silly war” which “no one understands the reason” for, but which could continue for years. He said Iran has the advantage in manpower and Iraq in sophisticated arms, but it would be “a disaster” if either side won.
According to Israeli sources, Shamir was not asked any tough questions during his meeting with the members of Congress. But he got those questions at the National Press Club luncheon.
Asked about the case of Jonathan Pollard, the former civilian Navy employee who is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to spying for Israel, he again said this was a “painful experience” for Israel.
He stressed the operation was conducted by a small group of Israelis “against the policy” of the Israeli government. “We regret it very much,” he added. He said Israel cooperated with the investigation and now that the case is in the U.S. courts, Israel “has nothing to say about it.”
WON’T TAKE LEAD ON SOUTH AFRICA
Asked about Israel investing or divesting in South Africa, Shamir replied: “We are looking for investments in Israel. We are looking for investments of Jewish people coming from South Africa to Israel.” Shamir stressed that Israel opposes apartheid, but in its relations with that country it must take “into consideration” the existence of an “important Jewish community.”
He said Israel is a “small country” and cannot lead the struggle against apartheid. But he added, Israel’s dealings with South Africa are less than those of many Black African and West European countries.
In his address, Shamir repeated his opposition to an international conference which King Hussein of Jordan wants to precede negotiations with Israel. He said the ideas were inspired by the Soviet Union, which wants to play a “major role” in the Mideast.
Shamir added that he would accept an international conference that would include only Jordan, Egypt, Palestinians and the U.S.
He again urged Jordan to agree to “face-to-face” negotiations, “if not in the region, which would be the most desirable, then right here in Washington or at Camp David.”
Shamir said the U.S. can play host because it is “interested in peace and stability” in the Mideast and has “excellent relations” with both Israel and Jordan.
At the same time, Shamir said that despite his criticism of the Soviet Union, “we are interested in improving relations with Soviet Russia.” He said it was not “normal” for the USSR to reject diplomatic relations with Israel.
He said that the first topic he would discuss with Soviet officials is Jewish emigration.
On Wednesday night, Shamir called for an end to the policy of providing “homeless refugee” status for Soviet Jewish immigrants that allows them to go to the United States and other countries rather than Israel.
“We are most anxious to put an end to the dropout phenomenon, which has caused much harm,” he told some 600 Jewish leaders from the U.S. and Canada at an Israel Bond dinner at the Capitol Hilton Hotel.
During his three-days of meetings with the Reagan Administration, Shamir has urged that the U.S. no longer grant refugee status to Soviet Jews since their Soviet visas are for immigration to Israel.
But Administration officials have rejected this plea, arguing that the U.S. supports “freedom of choice.”
“In Israel they are free to apply for a permit to go to any country of their choice,” Shamir stressed to the Bond leaders. “Our State was not established for the purpose of enabling the transfer of Jews from one dispersion to another.”
Noting that there are “rumors” of a change for the better in the Soviet emigration policy, the Premier said so far there is “no confirmation” of this. “We have to redouble our efforts to get the Soviet Union to let our people go and to do it right now,” he said.
INVITATION TO VISIT
Shamir urged American Jews to make a “pilgrimage” to Israel this year to help celebrate the 40th anniversary of the founding of the State and the 20th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem. “Send your children and grandchildren to the country,” he declared. “Let them see what has been accomplished in such a short time….Let them realize what yet remains for them to do in the years that lie ahead.”
The Premier stressed that “never for a moment have the people and the leadership of Israel believed that Israel is an endeavor of Israelis alone. We have always considered ourselves as the vanguard of the Jewish people, forward scouts whose task is to pave the way for the return of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel.”
Shamir noted the economic reforms of the national unity government, stressing that the aim was to reduce inflation to less than 10 percent.
“We hope that all these measures will instill greater confidence in investors and entrepreneurs and encourage them to bring their capital, experience and skills to Israel,” he said.
Shamir praised the accomplishments of the Israel Bond Organization, noting the record sale of $603 million in bonds in 1986. David Hermelin, Israel Bonds international campaign chairman, said $31 million in Bonds were sold for the dinner honoring Shamir.