White House Finally Invites Shamir, Ending Consternation over the Delay

The White House put an end late Thursday to growing concern in Israel and the American Jewish community that President Bush might decide not to invite Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir to the White House next week.

For much of the week and throughout the afternoon Thursday, Bush administration officials declined to say whether such a meeting would take place. But Jewish officials in New York received word Thursday evening that a meeting has now been set for 3 p.m. Wednesday.

The White House confirmed Thursday evening that a meeting has been set for Wednesday, but would not indicate what time it would take place. An Israeli official here also confirmed that a meeting had been set.

Earlier Thursday, a White House press spokesman told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that he did not know if or when such an announcement would be made.

And at the State Department, deputy spokesman Richard Boucher repeated the administration’s official line that Shamir is coming to the United States on a “private visit” to address the Council of Jewish Federations in Cincinnati next Thursday.

“I’m not even sure he’s coming to Washington,” Boucher said at his daily briefing. This was the same remark made by Bush during a news conference Tuesday.

Statements such as these had caused consternation in Israel and within the American Jewish community, since Shamir had expressed a clear desire to meet with the president while he is in the United States. There was a widely humiliated with a public slap in the face from the White House.

Usually, such meetings are announced by the White House well in advance of the scheduled date. An Israeli advance team reportedly had already arrived in the United States to prepare for a meeting nobody was sure would take place.

Bush himself added fuel to the growing doubts about the administration’s intentions Tuesday, when he said that he was willing to consider receiving Shamir, but wanted such a meeting to be “constructive” and for there to be “something positive to talk about.”

In New York, top officials of the U.S. Jewish community said they had been in touch with the highest echelons of the Bush administration on the matter. Said one official, “We are very concerned about the process and the way it has been presented to the public.”

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