WASHINGTON (Jan. 18)
George Bush, who will be inaugurated as president Friday, is expected to continue the Reagan administration’s basic foreign policy line in the Middle East.
At least this is what Secretary of State-designate James Baker III appeared to imply during confirmation hearings Tuesday and Wednesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
When Sen. Rudy Boschwitz (R-Minn.) made this appraisal, Baker agreed, with a caveat.
“Generally speaking I think that’s correct,” Baker said, “although this administration will of course feel free to supplement and modify those parts as the circumstances might require.”
Baker also told Boschwitz he would not change two U.S. policies: that Jerusalem must remain undivided and that Israel does not have to return to its pre-1967 borders.
In a part of his prepared opening statement to the committee, which he read Tuesday, Baker outlined a continuation of the basic Reagan policy in the Middle East.
“As President-elect Bush has described it, we have a solid consensus on the objectives and means of making peace between Israel and her Arab neighbors,” Baker said.
“These include the purpose of the negotiations, which is above all a just, enduring peace that ensures Israel’s security and satisfies the legitimate rights of the Palestinians.”
Baker said the administration will advocate “direct negotiations based on U.N. (Security Council) Resolutions 242 and 338, which include the exchange of territory for peace.
“Realistically, Jordan must play a part in any agreement,” he said. “The Palestinians must participate in the determination of their own future.”
TWO REASSURING APPOINTMENTS
Baker told the committee that the Bush administration will oppose a separate Palestinian state. Under questioning, he said that the final status of the West Bank and Gaza Strip will have to be determined by the parties themselves through direct negotiations.
But he indicated support for “some sort of confederation with Jordan,” adding that there would first have to be a transitional stage.
The Bush administration also will support an international conference if it is structured right and would lead the way to direct negotiations, Baker said.
He expressed support for the Reagan administration’s decision to open a dialogue with the Palestine Liberation Organization and said that he would continue the policy that the only channel for such talks is the U.S. ambassador in Tunisia, currently Robert Pelletreau.
Baker said one purpose of the talks is to ensure that the PLO does not resume terrorism. The other is to “see if the dialogue could facilitate a move toward direct negotiations,” Baker said.
Perhaps more reassuring to supporters of Israel than Baker’s statements were the appointments by Bush of two key aides to the new secretary of state: Lawrence Eagleburger as deputy secretary of state and Dennis Ross as director of the policy planning staff.
Ross, who is Jewish and an expert in Middle East and Soviet affairs, served two years on the National Security Council staff before becoming Bush’s senior foreign affairs adviser for his presidential campaign.
Eagleburger was undersecretary of state for political affairs, the third-ranking post in the State Department, until 1984, when he retired after 27 years in the Foreign Service.
Like Brent Scowcroft, whom Bush has named as national security adviser, Eagleburger was closely associated with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and has been president of Kissinger Associates Inc., a consulting firm, since leaving the government.
Ross was associated with the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Eagelburger, along with former Vice President Walter Mondale, was co-chairman of a bipartisan study by the institute on U.S. strategy for the Middle East, “Building for Peace.”
FOCUS ON HUMAN RIGHTS
The study urged the next president to work immediately on controlling the arms race in the Middle East, particularly the spread of ballistic missiles and chemical weapons.
“The issues of chemical weapons and ballistic missile proliferation compel our attention,” Baker told the Senate committee this week.
Baker also said that the Bush administration would continue to press the Soviet Union for improvements in human rights. He indicated to the committee Wednesday that the Bush administration would continue the Reagan administration’s practice of bringing up human rights as the first item on the agenda in its meetings with Soviet officials.
Baker said he “was not involved in the decision” by the Reagan administration to attend a human rights conference in Moscow in 1991, which some Jewish groups criticized as an unwarranted concession to the Soviets.
He said that while he is “impressed by the changes that are taking place” in the Soviet Union, U.S. participation in the Moscow conference will depend on additional progress in human rights, including the reforms in Soviet law promised by Soviet officials.
Baker also said that once he takes office he plans to spend “a fair amount of time and attention” on the issue of the increasing numbers of emigrants from the Soviet Union, both as to increasing the quotas for refugees and the need to provide additional funds for this flow.
(JTA correspondent Howard Rosenberg in Washington contributed to this report.)