WASHINGTON (Aug. 10)
The United States and Israel are cooperating in the effort to release hostages being held in southern Lebanon, but are not coordinating their effort, a White House spokesman said Thursday.
Marlin Fitzwater made those remarks while commenting on the 12-minute telephone conversation Wednesday between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and President Bush, which both sides later called “candid and friendly.”
Shamir, who initiated the call, promised Bush that Israel would seek to gain the release of all the hostages — including eight Americans — being held in southern Lebanon by Islamic fundamentalists, while trying to gain the release of three Israeli soldiers there.
Israeli reports of the telephone conversation said that Shamir endorsed Bush’s insistence that there be coordination in their efforts.
In denying this, Fitzwater stressed that the conversation was “a general discussion of the hostage situation,” and did not deal in specifics.
“I don’t believe the conversation was that direct,” Fitzwater said.
Israel has offered to release Sheikh Abdul Karim Obeid, the Hezbollah leader it captured July 28, and 150 other Shiites held in Israel, in exchange for the three Israeli soldiers and all other foreign hostages.
The Bush administration has said that U.S. policy is never to negotiate for hostages, but it has not objected to the Israeli effort.
“They have their policy, we have ours,” Fitzwater reiterated.
Asked why Bush had not telephoned Shamir since the hostage situation began, even though he made calls to other leaders in the Middle East and elsewhere, Fitzwater replied that discussions were ongoing with Israel on so many levels that there was no need for the two leaders to talk.
Meanwhile, Malcolm Hoenlein, executive director of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, denied a published report that Shamir’s call to Bush had been at the urging of American Jewish leaders.
Jewish leaders met with Bush on Tuesday to express concern that the hostage situation could adversely affect public support for Israel.
“We are in regular communication with both American and Israeli leaders,” Hoenlein said. “The White House does not need our prompting to be in touch with the prime minister or the prime minister our prompting to be in touch with the president.”
(JTA Jerusalem bureau chief David Landau contributed to this report.)