Progress Reported, but Unconfirmed in Israeli Envoy’s Talks with U.S.

Israeli Cabinet Secretary Elyakim Rubinstein may have made some progress this week in resolving differences with the Bush administration over the peace process.

A pro-Israel source on Capitol Hill quoted an administration official as saying that Israel and the United States “have closed some of the gaps, but several remain.”

But a State Department official said Wednesday that Rubinstein did not achieve “any breakthroughs” in his meetings at the State Department from Monday to Wednesday. The official described the talks as “exploratory.”

Ruth Yaron, chief spokeswoman at the Israeli Embassy here, would not say if Rubinstein received any of the assurances Israel is seeking in structuring proposed talks in Cairo between Israel and a Palestinian delegation.

Daniel Kurtzer and Aaron Miller, two key State Department specialists on the Middle East who sat in on the meetings, also refused to comment Wednesday.

The peace process also came up Tuesday afternoon in discussions at the State Department that Secretary of State James Baker had with a delegation of American Jewish leaders.

They included Seymour Reich, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; Malcolm Hoenlein, the conference’s executive director; two past chairmen of the conference, Kenneth Bialkin and Rabbi Alexander. Schindler; and Max Fisher, a leading Republican and former president of the Council of Jewish Federations.

NO EGYPTIAN REQUESTS YET

One participant termed the 40-minute meeting “just a progress report” on the Middle East peace process. He added that there was “nothing that was of any extraordinary consequence.” He said the group was assured that Baker “is dogged in his determination to carry the peace process forward.”

Rubinstein met primarily with Dennis Ross, who heads the State Department’s policy planning staff; Richard Haass, senior director for Near East and South Asian affairs on the National Security Council; U.S Ambassador to Israel William Brown; Miller; and Kurtzer. He also met briefly with Baker.

Egypt’s ambassador to the United States, El Sayed Abdel Raouf E1 Reedy, is scheduled to meet with the State Department team this week to “hear what the Israelis had to say,” the State Department official said.

A key assurance Rubinstein was seeking was that the United States will not insist that East Jerusalem Arabs be part of the Palestinian delegation meeting with Israel in Cairo. Israel is worried including them will damage Israel’s position in future talks on the final status of the administered territories.

Israel annexed East Jerusalem after the city was reunited in the 1967 Six-Day War. It is considered to be an inseparable part of the capital.

Israel also wants the Cairo meeting to focus just on implementing the Israeli plan for Palestinian elections in the territories, which would lead eventually to talks on the territories’ final status.

NEXT STORY