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Baker Speech Comes Under Attack at Confirmation Hearing for Deputy

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Two senators from opposite ends of the political spectrum admonished Secretary of State James Baker on Monday for suggesting that Israeli leaders believe in the concept of a “Greater Israel.”

Sens. Daniel Moynihan (D-N.Y.) and Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) said Baker should not have used the term in his May 22 speech on the Middle East at the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

The two senators voiced their criticism during a hearing by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the nomination of John Kelly, a 25-year-veteran of the foreign service, to be assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs.

Helms appeared only briefly at the outset of the hearing, at which Moynihan was the only senator present to question Kelly.

Helms said he had never heard the term “Greater Israel” used by a responsible Israeli leader. However, Syrian leaders frequently talk of a “Greater Syria” that includes Israel, Jordan and Lebanon, he said.

Baker, in an unusually blunt speech, told AIPAC that Israel should “lay aside, once and for all, the unrealistic vision of a Greater Israel.”

This was an “unfortunate use of terms,” Moynihan said.

MUST PURSUE ‘U.S. INTERESTS’

Kelly replied that Baker in his next sentence told AIPAC that “Israeli interests in the West Bank and Gaza — security and otherwise — can be accommodated in a settlement based on (United Nations Security Council) Resolution 242.”

He said this has been U.S. policy since 1967.

Kelly, whose only previous Middle East experience was as the U.S. ambassador to Lebanon from 1986 to 1988, made a brief opening statement in which he said he would “follow and exert every effort” to continue the “honorable tradition” of every U.S. government for the last 40 years in seeking to “ensure the security of Israel.”

He added that every administration has also sought “good and productive relations with Arab states. This in no way contradicts our commitment to the security of Israel. Honor and friendship do not undermine relations with anyone.”

But Kelly said his first responsibility is to pursue U.S. interests in the region. “We have no other purpose,” he said. “Good relations or warm relations are nice to have, but they mean nothing unless they advance the interests of the United States.”

Kelly’s record appears to have only one significant blemish. While serving in Beirut, he apparently was used by John Poindexter, then the national security adviser, as a back channel in the Reagan administration’s secret effort to gain the release of American hostages in Lebanon through arms deals with Iran.

When George Shultz, who was secretary of state at the time, learned of Kelly’s involvement, he summoned the envoy back to Washington to admonish him. Kelly said Monday he had thought the State Department knew of his role.

His involvement in this aspect of the Iran-Contra affair, however, is not expected to be a serious impediment to his confirmation.

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