WASHINGTON (Mar. 9)
President Bush told Jewish leaders Thursday that he is waiting to hear the peace initiative Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir will bring with him to Washington in April before moving ahead on U.S. proposals for advancing the Middle East peace process.
“I think this administration is examining all possibilities,” said Seymour Reich, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
He spoke to reporters after members of the Conference of Presidents and the National Jewish Coalition, a Republican group, met with Bush at the White House at Bush’s request. Also participating in the meeting were Secretary of State James Baker and State Department and National Security Council officials.
Before the administration hears from Shamir, Bush and Baker will meet with Foreign Minister Moshe Arens on Monday. It will be the first high-level U.S.-Israeli meeting since the Bush administration took office and since the new government of national unity was formed in Israel.
Reich, who is also president of B’nai B’rith International, indicated support for the administration’s go-slow approach. He said that while he is optimistic the meetings with Arens and Shamir will go well, “if anyone expects peace to break out the day after Shamir leaves Washington, they have to rethink this. Peace is not going to break out overnight. We need patience.”
NEW TALKS WITH PLO PLANNED
Reich said he does not expect the administration to put any pressure on Israel. Instead, Reich said there was a promise of consultations, not only with Israel but also with the American Jewish community, on the peace process and such things as strategic cooperation with Israel and any proposed arms sales to Arab countries.
The Jewish leader indicated that the administration would not press Israel on an international peace conference. He said that the administration believes such a conference “will not serve the process at this point,” and that direct negotiations are the only way to bring about peace.
Reich also revealed that the administration is seeking to schedule a second formal meeting soon with the Palestine Liberation Organization. This was confirmed by State Department spokesman Charles Redman.
“I think we are satisfied with the administration’s position with respect to the dialogue with the PLO,” Reich said. “The administration has indicated that it will hold the PLO to its pledge against terrorism.”
He said Baker said “terrorism would not be countenanced within Israel or outside Israel against military targets or civilian targets.”
“It is clear that the United States is holding the PLO and Arafat responsible for the actions of all the constituent parts of the PLO,” said Reich.
Reich said the Soviet Jewry issue was discussed, and Bush said that the administration will continue to raise the issue with the Soviets as Baker did when he met with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze in Vienna on Tuesday. He said Soviet officials were given a list of 2,600 names of Soviet Jews refused exit visas.
Bush opened the meeting expressing concern about the increase of anti-Semitism and racism in America, especially in recent election campaigns, Reich said.
The president asked whether the Jewish leaders thought it would be proper for him to speak out about it when it occurs in local campaigns. Reich said Bush was told that he should do so wherever it occurs, since he speaks as the “moral voice of the American people.”